Syrian authorities on Thursday released 552 prisoners as a part of the country's agreement with the Arab League [official website, in Arabic]. The prisoners were detained [NYT report] due to allegations that they were involved in "terrorist" activities. While more than 3,500 detainees have recently been released, human rights group Avaaz [advocacy website], estimates that 37,000 more remain in custody, despite the agreement, which demands that President Bashar al-Assad [BBC profile] free political prisoners, along with other requirements, including the removal of security forces and heavy weapons from cities. Avaaz also alleges that many prisoners remaining in detention are tortured. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] recognized that Syria has taken a few steps forward in meeting the obligations of the Arab League agreement but claims that the country has failed to honor [press release] the majority of these, and has even attempted to mislead Arab League monitors. As a result, HRW has urged the Arab League, which was scheduled to meet on Sunday to discuss the mission, to "draw clear lines regarding the Syrian government's responsibilities under the agreement and the conditions that need to be met for its monitors to do their essential work."
Last month UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official website] condemned [JURIST report] leaders of the Syrian government and violent protesters for the continuous bloodshed within the country. Approximately 44 people were killed [Al Jazeera report] before Christmas in two suicide car bomb attacks in Damascus. The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) [official website] has since linked the attacks to anti-government protests, while protesters and their supporters have suggested that the state planted attacks to coincide with an Arab League visit. Ban's press release pleaded that both groups resist violence. The UN Security Council [official website] echoed Ban's sentiments the same day, declaring [UN News Centre report] that the recent car bombings were acts of terrorism. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] reports that more than 5,000 people have died since anti-government protests began last March.