Image: Arab League observers tour the town of Mseifrah in Syria's southern Daraa province on January 5,
SANA via AFP - Getty Images
In this handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Arab League observers tour the town of Mseifrah in the southern Daraa province on Jan. 5.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/6/2012 4:04:01 AM ET 2012-01-06T09:04:01

Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad fired on a group of Arab League monitors in a Damascus suburb, according to a report.

Al-Arabiya TV said Friday the observers, who are in the country to assess whether the regime is abiding by a promise to end 10 months of violence against pro-democracy protesters, were touring the streets in the Arbeen district of the capital.

They reportedly withdrew after the attack. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Meanwhile, Qatar's prime minister said the monitors' mission in Syria had made "some mistakes" and that he was turning to the United Nations for help.

Video: Thousands protest Assad regime in Syria (on this page)

Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani discussed the month-long mission with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Wednesday amid mounting criticism that the observers are simply giving the Syrian regime cover for its ongoing crackdown on the uprising.

"We are coming here for technical help and to see the experience the U.N. has, because this is the first time the Arab League is involved in sending monitors, and there are some mistakes," he said, according to Kuwait's state news agency.

Asked what kind of mistakes, he replied: "This is the first experience for us. I said we have to evaluate what sorts of mistakes we have (made). There is no doubt for me. I can see there are mistakes, but we went there not to stop the killing, but to monitor."

Qatar has been at the forefront of criticism of Syria and has pushed for Arab League sanctions against Damascus.

Despite the criticism from Qatar's prime minister, the team of peace monitors will stay in Syria to check on the government's compliance with the Arab League peace accord — an agreement to scale back Syrian military presence in cities and free thousands of prisoners detained since the uprising began last March.

Manipulation?
The league's special committee on Syria is due to meet in Egypt on Sunday to debate the initial findings of the mission, which has been criticized by Syrian activists who question its ability to assess the violence on the ground.

The activists said the teams did not have enough access and were escorted by Syrian authorities, who were manipulating them and hiding prisoners in military facilities.

Syria's opposition has also accused the regime of misleading the monitors by taking them to areas loyal to the government, changing street signs to confuse them, painting army vehicles blue to look like those of police and sending supporters into rebellious neighborhoods to give false testimony.

Interactive: Young and restless: Demographics fuel Mideast protests (on this page)

An Arab League official said the observers have not reported or complained about being misled by the regime. He said the Syrian opposition is making pre-emptive statements, fearing the regime might try to mislead the monitors.

Addressing the opposition's complaint about painting military vehicles blue to appear as police vehicles — something that has been seen on amateur videos — the official said: "Observers know what is for the army and what is for police." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

He added that additional monitors will head to Syria on Friday to raise the total numbers of observers to about 140.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York that Qatar's Sheik Hamad and Ban discussed "practical measures how the United Nations could assist this observer mission."

"The form that could take is that, under the auspices of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, there would be training of (Arab League) observers," he said. "This would be a small-scale undertaking to train observers."

An Arab government representative told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the monitors could not be withdrawn whatever the contents of the initial report.

Syria, keen to show it is respecting the accord, said it had released a further 552 people detained during the revolt against Assad "whose hands were not stained with blood".

Syria also said it provided the monitors with all the facilities they needed.

"What we are looking for is objectivity and professionalism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi told Lebanese Manar television.

State news agency SANA said some 4,000 detainees had been released since November.

Arab League General Secretary Nabil Elaraby said on Monday the mission had secured the release of about 3,500 prisoners. Campaign group Avaaz said on Thursday 37,000 people detained since March were still being held.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Thousands protest Assad regime in Syria

  1. Closed captioning of: Thousands protest Assad regime in Syria

    >>> overseas now to syria which today saw one of the largest demonstrations there in months. it's been a year of uprisings and violent crack downs but the crisis continues without let-up. today, dozens more were killed. amin mojadin has our report.

    >> reporter: nine months into the syrian uprising, hundreds of thousands took to the streets today. protesting the regime that shows no signs of backing down. in this year of the arab spring a wave of change that toppled hosni mubarak of egypt and moammar gadhafi of libya. syria has managed to hold onto power. the cost, more than 5,000 lives since march with more killed each day, even as many soldiers defect and the uprising lurches toward civil war . nothing has slowed down the carnage. not even the presence of arab league observers. their job, to ensure the regime's compliance is an agreement aimed at ending the crack down. while the syrian government allowed the arab league in it has banned foreign media from reporting firsthand from inside the country.

    >>> the opposition is using home video to get the message out and hoping the observers present will help them be heard. in this amateur footage not independently verified residents placed the body of a dead child on the hood of the observer's car. but the arab league has been of little help so far. opposition groups say more than 130 syrians have been killed this week. president asad claims he's waging war against terrorist gangs and foreign elements trying to divide the country. few believe that, but so far the world seems helpless to stop him and so do the syrians in the streets. nbc news.

Data: Young and restless: Demographics fuel Mideast protests

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