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“The Arab League’s decision to appoint as the head of the observer mission a Sudanese general on whose watch severe human rights violations were committed in Sudan risks undermining the League’s efforts so far and seriously calls into question the mission’s credibility,” Amnesty said.

Elaraby said al-Dabi would report on the mission’s progress by the end of this week and that a meeting of Arab foreign ministers would be held next week to review the situation in Syria.

Despite the ongoing violence, the presence of the monitors has provided rare outside witnesses to the carnage in Syria and invigorated a protest movement that has faced a relentless military onslaught for months.

On Friday, which is the start of the weekend in the Arab world and the main day for protests, hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets calling for Assad’s downfall in the largest demonstrations in months.

The government has long contended that the turmoil in Syria this year is not an uprising by reform-seekers but the work of terrorists and foreign-backed armed gangs — a contention most international observers dismiss as an attempt by an autocratic regime to terrify its citizens into abandoning the revolt.

Hendawi reported from Cairo.