(Bloomberg) -- Syria has built a crematorium at a prison outside of Damascus to “cover up the extent of mass murders” by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to a U.S. official.
“We are appalled by the atrocities that have been carried out by the Syrian regime,” seemingly “with the unconditional support” of Russia and Iran, Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, told reporters Monday at the State Department.
Calling for Russia to press its ally Assad to curb excesses, Jones cited newly declassified reporting as well as photos taken by nongovernmental organizations, media and intelligence community assessments in listing Assad’s alleged actions against civilians.
In a statement Tuesday, Syria’s Foreign Ministry called the briefing “a new Hollywood” story with no connection to reality or the truth, according to the state-run SANA news agency. Syria “affirms that these allegations are completely unfounded,” it added, citing an unnamed Foreign Ministry official.
Jones said that at a prison about 45 minutes outside of Damascus, Syria’s capital, Assad’s regime has “modified a building within the Sednaya complex to support what we believe is a crematorium,” so that it can dispose of detainees’ bodies “with little evidence.” He said the regime has carried out extrajudicial killings of thousands of detainees, many through mass hangings, with as many as 50 detainees a day killed at Sednaya alone.
President Donald Trump’s administration has expressed interest in working with Russia to combat Islamic State terrorists in Syria but reaffirmed Monday it condemns President Vladimir Putin’s support for Assad.
“Syria will never be stable and secure as long as Assad is in power,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Monday, citing the State Department report on Syrian human rights abuses.
Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington. Trump is expected to have his first face-to-face talks with Putin within months.
Russia signed a memorandum this month on the creation of “de-escalation zones” with backing from Turkey and Iran during talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. Jones, who attended the talks as an observer, said “we have reason to be skeptical” of the plan given past failures.
“Russia has aided in or passively looked away as the regime has conducted” a range of atrocities, Jones said. “Russia must now, with great urgency, exercise its influence over the Syrian regime to guarantee that horrific violations stop now,” he said.