The State Department admitted Wednesday that it used department volunteers with limited Arabic language abilities to staff a hotline it set up to take calls about ongoing violence in Syria.
That move led to confusion this week as people who speak Arabic, which is Syria's official language, tried to call with information about violations of the Syria cease-fire, only to get hung up by volunteers who didn't have a perfect understanding of the language.
"In order to help monitor the cessation of hostilities in Syria, we did set up an information hotline that was staffed 24/7, where violations could be reported I think via a number of different apps," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Wednesday.
"There were some language issues among some of the volunteers," he added. "And granted, these again are State Department employees who are doing this in addition to their usual jobs."
"We are aware that there were some language issues, as you note, and we're working to correct those, obviously, because it's important that we have Arabic speakers who are able to field incoming calls," Toner said.
Toner was asked whether proficiency in Arabic was a requirement for volunteering to work the hotline.
"It was, just but, you know, given the time limits on setting this up, probably some of the language skills weren't properly vetted," he said.
"Agreed, we should have people ... agree," Toner said when pressed further. "So, we're working to address that."
The U.S. has been trying to monitor the cease-fire that was supposed to start last week in Syria, although the country has been marked by continued violence. State has already said the governments of Syria and Russia have not upheld the cease-fire.
Syria Direct reported Wednesday that a reporter called into the hotline, and reported that the official on the other end of the line was "really struggling and can't understand me."
When asked for the number of the hotline, Toner said he didn't have it on him.
"I don't have it in front of me, sorry," he said. "I completely failed on this issue, I apologize."