Ex-Arab League monitor labels Syria mission 'a farce'
A former member of the Arab League's observer mission to Syria has called it a "farce" and described the situation there as a humanitarian disaster.
Anwar Malek told al-Jazeera TV that he had resigned because of what he had witnessed in Syria, including war crimes committed by security forces.
He said the government had "fabricated" most of what the monitors had seen to stop the Arab League taking action.
Meanwhile, a French journalist has been killed in the central city of Homs.
Sources told the BBC in Damascus that Gilles Jacquier of France 2 television had been covering a demonstration near a hospital in the mainly Alawite central district of Zahra when a shell or rocket landed beside him.
Earlier reports suggested that a Belgian journalist was either killed or wounded, but it now appears a Dutch photoreporter was lightly injured.
The journalists had been on a government-escorted visit to Homs.
A government-affiliated TV station said eight civilians were also killed.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights meanwhile said four civilians were killed in Kafr Nabouda, in Hama province, on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council was told that an estimated 400 people had been killed in Syria since the Arab League mission arrived in late December - an average of almost 40 deaths a day.
The US permanent representative to the UN, Susan Rice, said the figure showed Syria's government had accelerated its killing of demonstrators, rather than using the opportunity to end the violence.
The UN says more than 5,000 people have been killed by Syrian security forces since the uprising began in March. The government says 2,000 security personnel have died combating "armed gangs and terrorists".
In an interview with al-Jazeera broadcast on Tuesday evening, Mr Malek said that by allowing in observers the Syrian government had "gained a lot of time to help it implement its plan" to end the unrest.
"What I saw was a humanitarian disaster. The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people."
"The snipers are everywhere shooting at civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released."
"Some on our team preferred to maintain good relations with the regime and denied that there were snipers," he added.
Mr Malek said he had resigned because what he had seen, and asserted that the observer mission had fallen apart.
"The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled," he added. "The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime."
He said that security forces had not withdrawn their tanks from the streets - as mandated by the Arab League peace initiative - but had just hidden them and then brought them back out after the observers had left.
He also said imprisoned protesters who were shown by state television being freed last month as part of an amnesty were actually people who had been detained at random four or five days earlier.
Mr Malek's name was on a list of the observers who were sent to Syria in late December, according to the Associated Press. He was identified as a Tunisian who works for the Paris-based Arab Committee for Human Rights (ACHR), although al-Jazeera said he was an Algerian.
On Tuesday, two Kuwaiti members of the observer mission were injured when their convoy was attacked by unknown demonstrators.
"Failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas where the mission is deployed is considered a serious violation by the government of its commitments," the Arab League said in a statement.
Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, stressed that his country "would continue to bear its responsibility to secure and protect those monitors".
Mr Malek also criticised the head of the mission, Sudanese Gen Mohammed al-Dabi, who he said had "wanted to steer a middle course in order not to anger the [Syrian] authorities or any other side".
Last week, the secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi, said the mission needed more time to complete its work.
But he said the Syrian military had withdrawn heavy weapons from towns and cities in accordance with the peace plan.
On Wednesday, President Assad made a surprise appearance at an open air rally by thousands of his supporters in Damascus.
Mr Assad said he wanted to show his love for the Syrian people.
"You are standing against a desecration of our identity, and you are confirming your steadfastness and support for the armed forces, whose martyrs are falling every single day so you can live in safety," he added.
His wife, Asmaa, and his children were also briefly shown in the live broadcast. There had been speculation that they might have have left Syria.
Mr Assad's short appearance came a day after he gave a televised speech, in which he said the Arab League had failed over the last six decades to bring about change.
"Regional and international sides have tried to destabilise the country," he said.
"Our priority now is to regain the security in which we basked in for decades, and this can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron fist," the president added.
The Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group, described the president's speech as an incitement to violence, and said he was "backing away from his own pledge to the Arab League plan".
In Washington, state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said President Assad threw "responsibility on everybody but back on himself and with regard to his own responsibility for the violence in Syria."