Hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets across the nation Friday in the largest protests in months, shouting for the downfall of the regime in a defiant display invigorated by the presence of Arab observers, activists said.
Despite the presence of the monitors, Al Jazeera quoted activists as saying that Syrian forces killed at least 32 people, most of them shot during anti-government protests.
Rami Abdul-Raham, who heads the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the crowds were largest Friday in Idlib and Hama provinces, with 250,000 people each. Other massive rallies were held in Daraa province and the Damascus suburb of Douma, he said.
Meanwhile, an Arab League monitor told an angry crowd in Syria that his team's job was only to observe, not to help them remove the president they have been rebelling against for nine months, live video on Al Jazeera showed on Friday.
"Our goal is to observe...it is not to remove the president, our aim is to return Syria to peace and security," he said, speaking over a loudspeaker from a podium at a mosque filled with protesters in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
But the observer, who did not give his name, said he promised to convey the protesters' sufferings.
"From what I have heard there is blood being shed," he said. "That is for sure."
The ongoing violence in Syria, and new questions about the human rights record of the head of the Arab League monitors, are reinforcing the opposition's view that Syria's limited cooperation with the observers is nothing more than a ploy by President Bashar Assad's regime to buy time and forestall more international condemnation and sanctions.
There is broad concern about whether Arab League member states, with some of the world's poorest human rights records, were fit for the mission to monitor compliance with a plan to end to the crackdown on political opponents by security forces. The United Nations says some 5,000 people have been killed in the government campaign since March.
One of Assad's few remain allies, Russia, voiced its approval of the observer mission so far, saying the situation was "reassuring." At the same time, a group of dissident soldiers who joined the opposition announced it has halted attacks on regime troops since the observers arrived in a bid to avoid fueling government claims that it is facing armed "terrorists" rather than peaceful protesters.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now