Syria's Assad gives amnesty, shocking many

 (AP Photo/SANA)

(AP Photo/SANA)

(CBS News) -- President Assad issued a blanket amnesty to protestors on Sunday, an amnesty many of his opponents are calling a sham.

Still, many detainees were released. CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that, in Damascus, no one was more surprised at the move than the prisoners.

Late Sunday afternoon, Arab League observers and the media were summoned to Damascus Central Prison to witness the mass release.

"They're the men who were arrested for demonstrating in protests last March," said Colonel el Ghajari.

Meanwhile, down the hall, guards gave the prisoners a briefing on the amnesty they didn't want CBS News to film.

Then the men were officially put on show: They walked out dazed, scared and unsure how much to say.

One man walked out seemingly injured, but didn't want to talk to the CBS News crew while still at the prison.

In the crowd Arab League observers did their best to document abuse, and collect phone numbers for follow up.

The men are going to walk free, but the opposition says that there is no telling how many more hundreds - perhaps thousands - will remain in the regime's secret jails, because there is simply no documentation to show that they were ever arrested in the first place.

Undaunted, Syrian opposition groups rallied again today in several cities and towns, making sure, where they could, that the Arab League got the message.

President Assad may think his amnesty will appease his international critics and the Syrian opposition, but that is not likely.

One young protester said: "We don't want to fight our country before he's even out the door. All we are asking for is our freedom."

Freedom from jail isn't what he means. Several of the men told us off-camera they planned to re-join the anti-regime protests as soon as they could.

But on Sunday night, first and foremost, they sought the simple pleasure of reunion.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.


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