Syrian state media said Thursday the government released 552 prisoners who were involved in unrest in the nation, but did not take part in the killing of Syrians. It appeared to be another gesture to comply with the Arab League plan to end the 9-month-old crackdown on dissent by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. That program required the regime to remove military forces from cities, halt violence against civilians and free political prisoners.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said earlier this week the Arab League observer mission to the nation was ensuring a halt to bloodshed and had secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners. He also reported that government forces had withdrawn from residential areas.
But the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdelrahman, reportedly said his contacts on the ground have not seen “the release of detainees or the true removal of a military presence from the streets.”
The Syrian government Wednesday rejected U.S. accusations that it was failing to live up to its agreement with the Arab League. Washington said Syria was trying to provoke more violence to justify retaliation. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said those statements are “offensive to the Arab League” and a “blatant interference in its work.”
According to the Associated Press, the observers came under criticism from activists and a pan-Arab group, the Arab Parliament, who accused them of giving cover to the regime to continue killing mostly peaceful, unarmed protesters. Also, critics said the mission is small, dependent on government assistance and ineffective. The regime said government escorts were being used for the monitors’ protection.
Opposition groups said the Syrian government has misled the monitors by taking them to loyalist areas, changing street signs to confuse them and sending supporters into rebellious neighborhoods to give false testimony.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi denied the allegations, telling the Associated Press, ‘We don’t interfere in the mission’s job.” The regime claimed that the unrest was not by Arab Spring reformists, but instigated by foreigners and terrorists. The United Nations estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,000 people were killed since the uprising began. Activists said hundreds more have died in Syria since then.
Some content in this article was provided by AP & AFP.
Susan Yackee is anchor of VOA's International Edition radio show. She has been a reporter in the Washington area for more than 35 years and regularly interviews newsmakers and analysts in DC and around the world. Susan works in television, radio and social media.