The Syrian regime, trying to walk a fine line between staying in power and avoiding the ire of the international community, abruptly announced a general amnesty for “crimes” committed during the uprising, which began last March. The fact that this is the fourth such amnesty issued by Bashar al-Assad during the uprising probably blunts the impact.

The decree, reported by the state-run news agency, SANA, came as the Arab League said it would meet next Sunday to discuss the findings of its mission to Syria, and as the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, called the repression in Syria “a dead end.” [...]

SANA reported that the amnesty would cover army deserters and people who possessed illegal arms or violated the law on peaceful protests, according to The Associated Press. It appeared to be the broadest amnesty yet, though further details were lacking in the news agency’s report. Some critics were skeptical that most prisoners would be freed, especially those held without charges at secret sites.

Indeed, opposition activists dismissed the announcement, regarding it as “ridiculous” and designed only to relieve international pressure on Syria. Nothing has stopped the mass killings of protesters and agitators, not even the entrance of 165 Arab League monitors into the country to observe the situation. Arrests, beatings, torture and shootings have not stalled out, and over 5,000 are dead, with as many as 35,000 incarcerated. Previous calls for amnesty from the government did not lead to a significant number of releases, either.

This Thursday, the head of the monitoring group plans to deliver a report to the Arab League about the mission, and this call for amnesty looks like a late entry to influence that report, so Syria does not receive a failing grade. The entry of more foreign journalists into Syria can be seen as a means to tamp down criticism in the report as well.

The reaction to the report could determine future events from the Arab League, and the international community has generally followed the lead of Arab leaders, particularly Saudi Arabia, in dealing with the uprising. So Syria knows it has to fend off any calls for intervention, which the emir of Qatar actually made over the weekend. So far, Western European nations like France and Britain dismissed the Qatari emir’s suggestion. But there may come a time when the pressure to act gets too great.