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Syrian Forces Kill At Least 24 as Protests Spread

Syrian activists say security forces have killed at least 24 people, including several children, as anti-government protests spread nationwide.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says three boys, ages 10, 12, 14, were shot and killed Friday in and around the restive city of Homs. Meanwhile, a 12-year-old girl was shot in the southern part of the country.

Despite a surge in violence this week, Syrians took the streets following Friday prayers in support of a "dignity strike." Activists said large demonstrations and much of the violence was concentrated in the epicenter of the bloody crackdown, Homs. The opposition Syrian National Council also issued a statement warning of a looming "massacre" as government security forces surrounded Homs.

Protests were also being held in the southern city of Daraa, the northwestern city of Idlib, near the Turkey-Syria border, and in Deir el-Zour, in the eastern part of the country.

The United Nations reports that at least 4,000 people have been killed since the unrest erupted in March, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon stood by that number in a statement made on Friday.

From the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the Secretary-General said that the U.N. death toll is based on "very credible sources."

His comments came in response to a rare interview an American journalist conducted with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In the interview, aired on Wednesday, Assad denied that he ordered the killing of thousands of anti-government protesters. Assad told ABC News he does not control the forces implementing his country's brutal crackdown.

On Friday, Turkey also responded to Mr. Assad's remarks in the interview. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to punish the "murders" and to accept the proposal of the Arab League.

Davutoglu said his country does not want to intervene in Syria's internal affairs, but he says Turkey cannot stand by when Syria's violence is affecting its neighboring countries. Turkey shares a southern border with Syria and is providing a safe haven to members of the opposition group, the Syrian National Council.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists are calling for a nationwide strike, beginning on Sunday, in an attempt to bring down the regime through civil disobedience. The Local Coordination Committee, which is behind the country's peaceful protests, is urging citizens to hold sit-ins; to close shops, universities and public transportation; and to refuse to work in the public sector.

This has been one of the most violent weeks in Syria since the pro-democracy uprising began nine months ago, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting more than 70 people killed since Sunday.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.