Syria says crematorium accusations ‘totally unfounded’
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Syria says crematorium accusations ‘totally unfounded’

Damascus dismisses US allegations as 'fabricated lies' meant to 'justify their aggressive and interventionist policies'

A satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium, April 18, 2017. (State Department/DigitalGlobe via AP)
A satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium, April 18, 2017. (State Department/DigitalGlobe via AP)

US claims that Syria’s regime is using a prison crematorium to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered detainees are unfounded and disconnected from reality, Damascus said on Tuesday.

“These allegations are totally unfounded, they are nothing but the product of the imagination of this administration and its agents,” state news agency SANA quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

“Successive US administrations have repeatedly fabricated lies and allegations to justify their aggressive and interventionist policies in other sovereign countries,” the ministry said.

“Yesterday the US administration pulled out a new Hollywood screenplay disconnected from reality, accusing the Syrian government of having, according to the administration, built a crematorium at the Saydnaya prison.”

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Aug. 27, 2013, left, and April 16, 2015, satellite images of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium. (State Department/DigitalGlobe via AP)
This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Aug. 27, 2013, left, and April 16, 2015, satellite images of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium. (State Department/DigitalGlobe via AP)

The State Department on Monday released satellite images that it said backed up reports of mass killings at the Syrian jail north of Damascus.

“Beginning in 2013, the Syrian regime modified a building within the Saydnaya complex to support what we believe is a crematorium” built in “an effort to cover up the extent of the mass murders taking place in Saydnaya,” said Stuart Jones, the top US diplomat for the Middle East.

The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not prove the building is a crematorium, but show a facility consistent with such use, Jones said.

Acting assistant secretary for the US State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones speaks at a news conference at the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, October 1, 2015. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)
Acting assistant secretary for the US State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones speaks at a news conference at the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, October 1, 2015. (AP/Khalid Mohammed)

The revelations echoed a February report by Amnesty International that said Syria’s military police hanged as many as 13,000 people in four years before carting out bodies by the truckload for burial in mass graves.

Although the State Department cast its unusual news conference as an effort to press Assad’s key backers, Russia and Iran, it also underscored Trump’s lack of a strategy for stopping Syria’s violence. The war has killed as many as 400,000 people since 2011, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and enabled the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terrorism threat.

Trump had been highly critical of Obama for failing to respond to earlier chemical weapons attacks in 2013 after setting a “red line” against their deployment. After a deadly chemical attack last month in northern Syria, Trump said the Syrians crossed “a lot of lines” for his administration. Beyond authorizing cruise missiles in response, however, he didn’t outline a strategy to eliminate the threat.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday reiterated the administration’s line that Syria’s future “should be decided by Syrians in a free credibly and transparent process.” But he called such a future “unimaginable” if Assad is propped up with help from the “seemingly unconditional support from Russia and Iran.” He didn’t outline how such a future might become imaginable.

Syrians walking past a giant poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid/ File)
Syrians walking past a giant poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, March 9, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid/ File)

Russia has shown no inclination to drop its support for Assad. It is now pushing the idea of “de-escalation zones” that would be designed to reduce violence, while not challenging Assad’s authority over almost all of Syria’s major cities.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been “firm and clear” in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week that “Russia holds tremendous influence over Bashar al-Assad.”

A main point of that meeting “was telling Russia to use its power to rein in the regime,” she said. “Simply put, the killing, the devastation has gone on for far too long in Syria.”

Syrian human rights groups and opposition activists have long reported on mass killings inside Syrian prisons, though not on bodies being burned to cover up evidence.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights corroborated the U.S. accounts of mass killings but said it lacked sufficient information about the crematorium.

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