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US accuses Syria of using crematorium to hide atrocities

The US said Monday it believes the Syrian government has built a large crematorium near the notorious Saydnaya Military Prison in an effort to hide mass atrocities carried out there, in newly unveiled declassified intelligence.

Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, laid out the evidence in a series of photographs and put the onus squarely on Russia, a supporter of President Bashar al-Assad, to rein in the Syrian regime’s continued atrocities.

“Although the regime’s many atrocities are well-documented, we believe the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass atrocities taking place in Saydnaya prison,” Jones said. “We are appalled by the atrocities taking place in Syria” with the “seemingly unconditional support of Russian and Iran.”

Jones said the regime could be killing as many as 50 detainees a day at Saydnaya. In February, Amnesty International alleged that thousands of people have been hanged at the Syrian prison just 45 minutes outside the capital of Damascus in a secret crackdown on dissent.

Amnesty’s report, Human Slaughterhouse, said prisoners are moved in the middle of the night from their cells under the pretext of being transferred. They are taken to the grounds of the prison, where they are hanged, likely unaware of their fate until they feel the noose around their neck, Amnesty alleged.

Jones presented the evidence just a week after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Washington to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including the conflict in Syria.

Tillerson “was firm and clear with Minister Lavrov that Russia holds tremendous influence with Bashar al-Assad” and must act to rein him in, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

“Simply put, the killing and devastation has gone on for far too long in Syria,” Nauert said.

Nauert said “both men agreed the way to bring stability to Syria must come about through … diplomatic means … lasting ceasefire … reduce violence, ensure humanitarian access … will help create political conditions on the ground for a lasting solution to the conflict.”