Qatar's prime minister has conceded that the Arab League observer mission in Syria has made "mistakes," and that United Nations assistance is needed to improve the monitoring of government compliance with a plan to end the violence.
After meeting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said he is seeking technical help from the United Nations. He acknowledged that Arab League monitors have "less experience" than other international observer teams. Sheikh Hamad chairs the Arab League committee on Syria.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters that Sheikh Hamad and Mr. Ban discussed "practical measures how the United Nations could assist [the] observer mission."
The Cairo-based Arab League meets Sunday to discuss the findings of its initial 50 monitors, who arrived in Syria December 26.
The effort is aimed at ensuring President Bashar al-Assad follows through on his pledge to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti-government demonstrations.
Also Thursday, Syria said it had released more than 500 people imprisoned for their role in anti-government protests, but an opposition group accused the government of torturing and killing an even larger number of jailed people since uprisings began in March.
Syrian state television said Thursday the government had set free those detainees "whose hands were not stained with blood."
At the same time, the activist group Avaaz accused the Assad government of killing 617 people in overcrowded jails and illegal detention centers since the Syrian government began its brutal crackdown. The Avaaz group said its count showed nearly 7,000 people killed in the Syrian uprising, compared to a U.N.-compiled toll of 5,000 dead. It challenged Arab League investigators to expose the regime's "torture chambers" and bring an end to the harsh treatment of protesters.
Separately, other rights organizations said at least 17 people were killed Thursday during clashes between protesters and Syrian forces throughout the country, mainly in the eastern Deir Ezzor region.
Avaaz, a global activist group that operates primarily online (www.avaaz.org), said it has verified the fate of every victim on its list through multiple independent sources.
Earlier this week, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El Araby said the League's team in Syria had secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners. But the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the government is vastly overstating those figures.
Opposition groups in Syria have sharply criticized the Arab League observer mission, saying its inaction has allowed Mr. Assad to continue his forces' crackdown against dissent.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.