Troops brutally quell Syrian protests
Syrian troops fired on protesters trying to break an army blockade, as tens of thousands of people rallied in towns and cities across the country in defiance of President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown for the sixth week running.
The government forces shot dead at least 24 people in Deraa, while there were reports of 38 more villagers injured. A nearby hospital received 15 bullet-riddled bodies.
Human rights groups said that there were 84 bodies in makeshift morgues in Deraa, including those of women and children.
Demonstrators in the Syrian capital of Damascus, as well as other towns and cities, expressed solidarity with the people of Deraa, which is under a 24-hour curfew.
In a concerted attempt to crush dissent in the city where Syria's uprising began six weeks ago, authorities have cut water and electricity and stationed snipers on roofs to shoot at anyone leaving their homes, while troops in Jeeps mounted with machine guns patrolled the streets.
With fears of a humanitarian crisis mounting among Deraa's population of 120,000 people, the residents of nearby villages attempted to march on the city with food and emergency supplies.
However, as they neared the outskirts of the city, Mr Assad's security forces reacted in now familiar fashion by shooting directly into the crowds.
The government claimed that, in a separate incident, four soldiers were killed and two others captured in an attack by "terrorists". Activists said the four soldiers were killed by other members of the security services after they refused orders to fire on unarmed protesters.
If true, the incident added weight to claims of discontent within the armed forces. Reports earlier this week suggested a mutiny within elements of the Fifth Brigade of the Syrian army, which has been deployed in and around Deraa, had occurred.
Hundreds of members of Mr Assad's Ba'ath party have resigned in recent days, suggesting that the president's hold on power is beginning to weaken.
Almost 500 civilians have died in the past six weeks, with more than 100 demonstrators shot dead last Friday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)