The US State Department on Monday accused the government of Syria of using a newly built crematorium to dispose of political prisoners killed at a notorious prison.
Roughly 50 people a day, The State Department estimates, are being hanged at the Sadnaya military prison, said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
“We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison,” Jones said.
“If you have that level of production of mass murder, using a crematorium would allow you to handle that number of corpses coming out of Sadnaya prison,” Jones added.
Jones also accused Russia of supporting Syria’s actions, something the Obama administration accused the Assad regime of as well.
“We have talked to the Russians about their apparent tolerance of Syrian atrocities,” Jones told reporters. “At this point we are talking about this evidence and sharing it with the international community.”
Jones presented a series of black-and-white satellite photographs of the Saydnaya prison complex and a nearby compound identified as a “probable crematorium.” Side-by-side photos from 2013 and 2017 show that new features appear in the more recent image from an area outside the alleged crematorium building. The allegedly new features are identified as “discharge stack,” “probable air intake,” “HVAC” (heating ventilation and air conditioning) and a “probable firewall.”
The briefing was based on newly declassified information, said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government hanged 13,000 prisoners over five years at the prison, Amnesty International alleged in February.
More than 400,000 people have been killed in the Syria conflict, Jones said, citing the United Nations and credible human rights organizations.
“The regime must stop all attacks on civilians and opposition forces, and Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance,” Jones said.
The new accusations come on the heels of last week’s visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Trump, where all three expressed a desire for better U.S.-Russian relations.
“Syria is one place where we would like to see relations improve,” Jones said.
While last week’s meetings included Syria, the Russians neglected to lay out how to deal with the role of “proxies” fighting alongside Syrian government forces, or how to reach a much needed cease-fire, he said.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov indicated to us they ware interested in finding a solution on Syria, (but) there’s no solution without a political process,” Jones said. “This is an opportunity to remind people of what is happening inside Syria. This is one piece of evidence.”
The Syria conflict began in 2011 when Assad’s government used lethal force to suppress a pro-democracy demonstration. As the fighting escalated, Russia began supporting Assad’s military with airstrikes that Russian President Vladimir Putin said would target “terrorists,” but the U.S. said were aimed primarily at Assad’s moderate opponents.
A U.S.-led coalition has also been conducting airstrikes in Syria aimed at the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, mostly in the eastern part of the country. The U.S. has also provided diplomatic support to moderate elements among the Syrian opposition.
Report from USA Today:
Full State Department Briefing:
The Associated Press, USA Today, and The State Department contributed to this report.