News / Middle East

Qatari Prime Minister Says 'Mistakes' Made During Arab League Syria Mission

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, at the UN headquarters in New York, January 4, 2012.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar, at the UN headquarters in New York, January 4, 2012.

Qatar's prime minister says there have been "some mistakes" in the Arab League's observer mission in Syria.

Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani discussed the mission Wednesday during a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, amid criticism from opposition groups who say the the Syrian government is misleading the observers.

Kuwait's state news agency KUNA quoted the prime minister, who also leads an Arab League task force on Syria, as saying the mission is a first for the League and that the talks included what experience the United Nations could share.

Arab League ministers are due to meet Saturday to review the observer team's assessment of whether the Syrian government is keeping a pledge to end a deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters.  The Obama administration's top Middle East envoy, Jeffrey Feltman, will hold talks in Cairo Thursday ahead of the meeting.

Opposition groups say 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 state media said Thursday the government released 552 prisoners who were involved in the unrest but did not take part in the killing of Syrians.

Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said earlier this week the observer mission is ensuring a halt to bloodshed and has secured the released 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  He also reported that government forces had withdrawn from residential areas.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 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 is failing to live up to its agreement with the Arab League. Washington said Syria is 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."

Qatari Prime Minister Says 'Mistakes' Made During Arab League Syria Mission
Qatari Prime Minister Says 'Mistakes' Made During Arab League Syria Mission

As observers continued their efforts Wednesday, activist groups said security forces and pro-government militia shot dead at least 10 people in central Homs province.

The Syrian opposition has sharply criticized the observer mission, saying it allows President Bashar al-Assad to continue cracking down on the rebellion against his 11-year autocratic rule. Rights groups have expressed increasing concern that monitors are "unprofessional" and lack experience.

The United Nations estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed since March in the Syrian government's crackdown on protests inspired by the Arab Spring democracy movement. Damascus says it is fighting Islamist militants directed from abroad that have killed at least 2,000 of Assad's forces.

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

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