The Syrian government has “categorically” denied US accusations of mass killings at a prison near Damascus, including executing political opponents and burning the victims in a crematorium at the site. The allegations are “a new Hollywood plot” to justify US intervention in Syria, a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.
It described the US State Department accusations as “lies” and “fabrications”, noting what it called a US track record of making up false claims as a pretext for military aggression. The State Department said on Monday that it believes about 50 detainees are being hanged each day at the Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes north of Damascus.
Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium “to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place”, said Stuart Jones, the senior US diplomat for the Middle East, accusing President Bashar Assad’s government of sinking “to a new level of depravity”.
The allegation of mass killings came as President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the US launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad’s military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent. The latest accusations have cast a shadow over peace talks getting under way in Geneva, where Syrian government and opposition representatives sat down separately with a UN envoy.
TThe meetings are the sixth round of talks brokered by special envoy Staffan de Mistura.
“The US administration’s accusations against the Syrian government of a so-called crematorium in Saydnaya prison, in addition to the broken record about the use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons, are categorically false,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
The allegation could test the Trump administration’s willingness to respond to atrocities other than chemical weapons attacks Washington blames on Assad’s government. Western monitors and watchdog groups say they have evidence of mass killings in Syrian government prisons, although there have not been any substantiated allegations of the use of a crematorium.
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 prove the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use.
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.