About 20,000 people have gathered in the southern Syrian city of Deraa for the funeral of six people killed on Wednesday allegedly by the Syrian security forces.

Reports said yesterday the security forces stormed a mosque in the city in a pre-dawn swoop, killing at least six people and injuring score. Deraa has been the focal point of the unfolding anti-government protests in Syria.

The recent spate of protests in Syria, which took inspiration from similar movements in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, has leveled the most serious challenge to the Assad clan's grip on power since 1963. Syria has been under an emergency law since the time president Bashar al-Assad's 's father, Hafez al-Assad, took power leading the Baathist party. Thousands of people have disappeared over the decades as the regime sought to suppress all dissent.

Milling crowds at the funerals on Thursday indicate that the Deraa killings will be a watershed in Syrians' fight against the oppressive regime. The Syrian government, however, had denied the killing was done by security forces, saying armed gangs were involved in the violence.