News / Middle East

Syria Releases Hundreds of Prisoners But Violence Continues

Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather in Hula, near Homs in this undated handout photo released November 4, 2011.
Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gather in Hula, near Homs in this undated handout photo released November 4, 2011.

Syrian officials announced Saturday that they are releasing more than 500 prisoners as part of an amnesty for Eid al-Adha or the Feast of the Sacrifice. At the same time, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby is warning Damascus that its failure to abide by an Arab peace plan would be a catastrophe for both Syria and the region.  Violence continued on Saturday in the Homs region, with activists saying at least 10 people were killed.

The Syrian government announcement that it would release 553 prisoners came as its security forces continued to pound the Baba Amr district of Homs for the fourth consecutive day.

Hadi Abdallah, an opposition activist in Baba Amr, told al Jazeera TV that the government was “deceiving the world by claiming to seek peace, while continuing to shell Baba Amr.” He also implored the world community to stop the violence.

In the Deir Balbah district of Homs, mourners chanted slogans against the government Saturday as they laid to rest a protester killed in violence a day earlier. Arab satellite channels reported that more than a dozen people were killed during protests across Syria, Friday.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, Arab League head Nabil Elaraby deplored the ongoing violence and warned Damascus that its failure to abide by an Arab peace plan would be a “catastrophe for both Syria and the region.” He added that Arab states are opposed to “foreign intervention.”

In neighboring Turkey, the head of the Free Syrian Army, Riyadh al Asad, told the Arab daily Asharq Alawsat that it was an “illusion to think that the Syrian opposition could bring down the government peacefully.” He claimed that 15,000 soldiers have defected from the regular army.

Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, said the Syrian government was using the release of 500 prisoners as a smokescreen for its ongoing crackdown. "The Syrian regime may release 500 people from prison, but since they signed the agreement with the Arab League in Cairo, they arrested more than 2000 people. So, releasing prisoners means nothing. They can apprehend far more people than those whom they release in no time. This is another ploy by the Syrian regime," he said.

Khashan said the Arab League is not just calling for the release of 500 prisoners. “The main issue,” he said,” is stopping all military action and allowing Syrians to express their views freely.”

The Syrian interior minister announced on state TV Friday that the government would grant amnesty to those guilty of bearing arms, but not responsible for killing anyone, if they turned themselves in. The U.S. State Department urged Syrians not to accept the offer.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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