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Official: Arab League monitors made 'mistakes'

By the CNN Wire Staff
January 5, 2012 -- Updated 2010 GMT (0410 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Diplomat says U.S. backs Arab League initiative
  • The Arab League wants help from the United Nations
  • More than 550 detainees are being released by Syria, state TV says
  • The political activist group Avaaz issues a report about regime prisons

(CNN) -- Arab League monitors made "mistakes" during their fact-finding mission in Syria, a top Qatari official said Thursday.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani told reporters the league is seeking technical assistance from the United Nations for its mission, which has been lambasted by many critics for failing to halt violence. Al-Thani serves as Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister

He didn't elaborate on the errors, but he stressed that the mission is of an "observatory nature, not to intervene in stopping the violence."

Members of the Syrian National Council opposition movement met with Arab League officials in Cairo on Thursday to discuss the mission.

"We requested more monitors and better logistical and general support to the mission," council member Walid Buni told CNN. "We also highlighted some of their mistakes and requested the league be more precise in their statements."

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Buni cited an example of what he said was a mistake. He said Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League secretary-general, announced the release of nearly 3,500 detainees, but noted that the information came from the Syrian government and hadn't been verified.

"I think these mistakes are due to the limited experience some of the monitors have in dealing with such a regime," Buni said. 

The Arab League is meeting Sunday to discuss the monitoring mission.

An Arab League official who asked not to be named said the league will be discussing a preliminary report from the findings of the monitors. He said it will be presented by Lt. Gen. Mohamed Ahmed Mustapha al-Dabi, the Sudanese military official who is heading the observation mission.

Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, was in Cairo on Thursday discussing a number of issues with Arab League officials, including the monitoring mission.

"I took the opportunity to affirm the strong United States support for the initiative that the Arab League has taken on to stop the violence in Syria against the Syrian people," Feltman said.

"The Arab League has assumed an important but difficult responsibility in trying to find ways to assure verification of the Arab League's initiative."

The assistant secretary stressed the importance of the Arab League taking a key role on the issue, saying, "all of us who have an interest in seeing this violence stop look forward to what the Arab League will decide on Sunday."

Syrian state TV announced the release Thursday of 552 detainees "whose hands were not stained with the blood of fellow Syrians." The government has announced the release of other detainees during the observer mission.

From 5,000 to more than 6,800 deaths have occurred over the past 10 months during the government crackdown on protesters, according to various counts. President Bashar al-Assad's government says it is putting down armed terrorists and blames the bloodshed on them.

On Thursday, violence led to 24 more deaths in five provinces, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist group. Twelve people died in Deir Ezzor, five in Damascus, five in Homs, one in Idlib, and one in Aleppo.

The Local Coordination Committees reported these incidents:

People died amid heavy shooting and a security crackdown in the village of Ghariba in Deir Ezzor province, in the eastern part of the country. A massive demonstration was reported in the city of Deir Ezzor. Sporadic gunfire was reported in Hasaka in the northeast.

Demonstrators staged a sit-in in a Homs neighborhood. Security forces used gunfire to disperse demonstrators in Aleppo, the Daraa province town of Hirak and the Damascus suburban town of Douma. Security forces and the army launched raids in the Damascus suburb of Harasta.

The al-Assad government agreed to a peace initiative with the Arab League that calls for security forces to withdraw from cities, release detainees and end violence. Part of the agreement calls for Arab League observers to monitor whether the government abides by the initiative. That mission began late last month.

Since the conflict began, reports on brutality in Syria have been issued by political activists and human rights watchdogs.

The political activist group Avaaz issued a report Thursday detailing "atrocities" in Syria's detention facilities.

"Bashar al-Assad's security forces are detaining and in most cases torturing Syrian citizens opposed to the regime in overcrowded prisons, jails and illegal detention centers across the country. Avaaz has compiled the locations of these dungeons -- which even include schools -- and the names of regime loyalists running the facilities and the torturers-in-chief setting detention policy at the highest levels," the group said.

The group called on the Arab League monitors to visit what Stephanie Brancaforte, an Avaaz campaign director, called "torture chambers."

The group said 69,000 people have been detained over a-nine month period and more than 6,800 people have died, including more than 600 by "torture."

"Of the 69,000 detained since March, over 37,000 people remain in detention and about 32,000 people have been released, many of them bearing scars from torture and violence," Avaaz said. The group said it confirms deaths or arrests with "three independent sources, including a family member of the deceased and, in the case of a death, the imam who performed the funeral procession."

CNN cannot independently confirm events inside Syria because the government restricts the activity of international journalists.

Journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Ian Lee and CNN's Schams Elwazer, Tracy Douiery and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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