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Syria releases over 500 political prisoners

Assad government says the detainees were involved in anti-regime activities.

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Deputy Arab League Seretary General Samir Seif al-Yazal inspects with a group of Arab observers the site of a suicide attack, which targeted the Syrian General Intelligence headquarters, in Damascus on December 23, 2011. (Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

The Syrian government released 552 political prisoners Thursday, adding to the over 3,500 freed earlier this week. The release comes as criticism of the Arab League observer mission grows and the government crackdown on protesters continues.

Syria said the Thursday release was of those "whose hands were not stained with blood." Activists say the government is still holding over 25,000 prisoners, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, another activist group released a report Tuesday that said 617 Syrians had been killed by government torture since the uprising began there in March, the AP reported.

Avaaz, the activist group, said that in addition to the 617 victims of torture, 6,874 had been killed in Syria since March. That is more than the official United Nations estimate of 5,000. “Assad’s henchmen have tried to break the pro-democracy movement in these torture chambers, but brave Syrians are still standing up for their rights,” said Stephanie Brancaforte, Campaign Director at Avaaz, according to the AP.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamid bin Jassim al-Thani consulted Wednesday with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon about adding UN technical expertise to bolster the efficacy of the Arab League mission. The New York Times reported: "'The monitors have tried their best,' Sheik Hamid said, but they lack any previous experience, so could benefit from United Nations technical help."

More from GlobalPost: Activists accuse Damascus of hiding conflict's toll

Despite the criticism from the Qatari Emir, the Arab League said it plans to continue its mission in Syria to the end. Reuters reported: "An Arab government representative told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the monitors could not be withdrawn whatever the contents of the initial report."

More from GlobalPost: Arab League urged to pull monitors out of Syria amid violence

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/120105/syria-releases-political-prisoners