Syria Toll Rises to 44
But state news blames 'armed gangs' for 17 deaths
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2011 7:03 AM CDT
A Syrian citizen, left, who fled from violence from western Syria, receive bedding and other aid from Lebanese civil society groups, near the Lebanon-Syria border on Friday May 20, 2011.   (Bilal Hussein)
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(Newser) – The Syrian Security forces crackdown on protesters in different parts of the country left at least 44 people dead yesterday, making it one of the deadliest days since the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began two months ago, a rights group said today. Syria, meanwhile, blamed "armed groups who took advantage of peaceful gatherings" for the casualties and put the toll at 17.

The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria said most of the deaths occurred in the northern province of Idlib and the central region of Homs. Yesterday, thousands of Syrians defied an unrelenting government crackdown and flooded streets across the country to buttress their two-month uprising against the country's authoritarian regime. Authorities responded with live ammunition, causing the large number of casualties, right groups say. The latest deaths bring to at least 900 the number of civilians killed since the uprising began, according to human rights group tallies. Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented local reporters from covering trouble spots, making it nearly impossible to independently verify witness accounts.