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.
As many as 38 people were killed by security forces in several cities across Syria, al-Arabiya reported, citing Syrian activists.Five members of the security forces were also killed in a shooting in the city of Homs, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
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.
Despite skepticism over the Arab League mission, it has energized the protest movement, with tens of thousands turning out this week in cities and neighborhoods where the observers are expected to visit.
The huge rallies have been met by lethal gunfire from security forces, apparently worried about multiple mass sit-ins modeled after Cairo's Tahrir Square. In general, activists say, security forces have launched attacks when observers were not present. But there have been some reports of firing on protesters while the monitors were close by.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist coalition, said at least 130 people, including six children, have been killed in Syria since the Arab observers began their one-month mission on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Pro-Assad groups turned out for rallies in Damascus and several other cities, waving portraits of the president, in an apparent bid to show the regime has public support during the observer visit. On Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said an initial assessment by Arab League observers in Syria was "reassuring." Moscow is one of Syria's few remaining allies following more than nine months of violence.
"Moscow appraises with satisfaction the real beginning of the Arab League activities in Syria," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "The situation there is reassuring, clashes have not been recorded."
Reuters and Ynet contributed to the story
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