Arab League's Syria mission slammed from all sides
Over 500 Syrian anti-regime protesters were released on Thursday as Damascus makes moves to comply with the Arab League’s peace plan. But while the League’s observer mission is to file its first report, pressure on the monitors is increasing.
On Thursday, Syrian national TV announced the government had let go 552 protesters, "whose hands were not stained with blood." This adds to 3,500 other political detainees released by the Syrian regime in past weeks, according to Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby. But according to peace activists, at least 25,000 peaceful protesters remain behind bars. Release of political detainees is just one point on the Arab League’s plan to end the ten months of bloodshed in Syria, which the UN estimates has taken over 5,000 lives. The regime is also required to remove security forces and heavy weapons from cities, and start talks with opposition leaders. Over a hundred Arab League observers have arrived in Syria since December 26 to verify whether the government is living up to the agreement, with the League's special Syria committee meeting in Egypt on Sunday to review the initial findings.Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army has called on the Arab League to withdraw its mission from the country over its "failure" to halt the violence, echoing demands from opposition groups and the Arab Parliament, an independent advisory body to the Arab League.Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, speaking from UN headquarters in New York, acknowledged the mission was not irreproachable. "We must evaluate the types of mistakes it made – and without a shadow of a doubt I see mistakes – even though we went in to observe, not to stop the violence," he said on Thursday after meeting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The Arab League was reportedly forced to approach the UN for “technical help” over mistakes their mission made in Syria. A UN spokesman said on Wednesday that Ban Ki-Moon and al-Thani "discussed practical measures by which the United Nations could support the observer mission of the Arab League in Syria."Washington also chose to act, sending an envoy to Cairo, where the Arab League meets, ahead of the observers’ report. The move provoked harsh rhetoric from Damascus."The United States is one of the parties seeking to rekindle violence by its mobilization and incitement," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi said in a statement quoted by Agence France Presse.The Americans' statements are “a gross interference in the work of the Arab League, and an unjustified attempt to internationalize" the issue of Syria, he added.Political analyst and journalist Omar Nashabe disregarded the calls made by the Free Syrian Army to dismantle the Arab League’s mission to Syria.“I have a problem saying ‘the Free Syrian Army.’ This is a group of soldiers and officers who have deserted the Syrian army and are supported by Western powers in order to create chaos in Syria and to show that the Syrian government is incapable of preserving law and order,” Nashabe claimed in an interview with RT. “They would do everything in their power to make sure the report of the Arab League’s observers is to their interests.”If the Free Syrian Army “feel the monitors notice the violations on the part of demonstrators and deserters, they will call for the withdrawal of the observers and they will say the observers are under pressure from the Syrian authorities,” he added.