Assad using large crematorium to hide mass atrocities at Syrian prison, claims US

The State Department provided satellite imagery but no evidence to substantiate its claim

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The Independent US

The US has claimed Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has constructed a large crematorium and is using it to dispose of the bodies of up to 50 political prisoners it is said to be executing every week.

Amnesty International reported in February that an average of 20 to 50 people were hanged each week at the Sednaya military prison north of Damascus. Between 5,000 and 13,000 people had been executed there in the years since since a popular uprising descended into a bitter civil war, it said. The group said the process being carried out to crush any dissent against the Assad government and that the majority of those being killed in mass hangings, were civilians opposed to the government.

Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, said the US believed a crematorium had been built at the jail, though he did not provide evidence to prove the claim.

“Credible sources have believed that many of the bodies have been disposed in mass graves,” Mr Jones told reporters. “We now believe that the Syrian regime has installed a crematorium in the Sednaya prison complex which could dispose of detainees’ remains with little evidence.”

Reuters said during the briefing, he showed aerial images of what he said was a crematorium. He also claimed that Russia had “either aided in or passively looked away as the regime has” engaged in mass murders” and other atrocities.

Some will be disinclined to believe the allegations from the State Department and dismiss them as little more than the latest instance of propaganda from Washington. The US, UK and other nations have repeatedly accused Syria of various humans rights abuses during the six year conflict.

Chemical attack '100 per cent fabrication', Assad says

Earlier this year, Syria and Russia denied Western claims that chemical weapons had been used against Syrian civilians.

During a meeting in Washington with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Mr Jones said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “Russia must now, with great urgency, exercise its great influence over the Syrian regime”.

Mr Jones also said he was not optimistic about a Russia-brokered deal to set up “de-escalation zones” inside Syria.

 

The deal was reached with support from Iran and Turkey during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana earlier this month.

“In light of the failures of the past ceasefire agreements, we have reason to be skeptical,” said Mr Jones.

Mr Jones said Assad’s government had carried out air strikes, chemical attacks, extrajudicial killings, starvation, and other measures to target civilians and its opponents. He criticised Russia and Iran for maintaining their support for Assad despite those tactics.

“These atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” Mr Jones said. “The [Assad] regime must stop all attacks on civilian and opposition forces. And Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance.”

The State Department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it described as a building in the prison complex that was modified to support the crematorium. The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not definitely prove the building is a crematorium, but they show construction consistent with such use, said the Associated Press.

Earlier this year, Amnesty called the prison a “slaughterhouse”.

“The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorised at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population,” said Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut.

“We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Sednaya prison and in all other government prisons across Syria. Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.”

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