(Reuters) - The main hospital in the southern Syrian city of Deraa has received the bodies of at least 37 protesters who were killed in a confrontation with security forces, a hospital official said Thursday.
Security forces opened fire on hundreds of youths at the northern entrance to Deraa Wednesday afternoon, according to witnesses, in a dramatic escalation of nearly a week of protests in which at least 44 civilians have been killed since Friday.
Around 20,000 people marched Thursday in the funerals for nine of those killed, chanting freedom slogans and denying official accounts that infiltrators and "armed gangs" are behind the killings and violence in Deraa.
"Traitors do not kill their own people ... God, Syria, Freedom. The blood of martyrs is not spilled in waste!" they chanted in Deraa's southern cemetery.
As Syrian soldiers armed with AK-47s roamed the streets of the southern city, residents emptied shops of staples and basic goods and said they feared the government of President Bashar al-Assad was intent on crushing the revolt by force.
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