On Tuesday, the Syrian government published a statement categorically denying American claims it had carried out mass executions at the Saydnaya military prison near Damascus, with a crematorium employed to dispose of the evidence.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry dismissed the claims as “a new Hollywood story detached from reality.”
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones said on Monday that up to 50 prisoners were hung each day at Sednaya, and then cremated to “cover up the extent of mass murders taking place.”
Jones accused the Syrian regime of treating “opposition forces and unarmed civilians as one and the same,” systematically abducting and torturing civilians – often “beating, electrocuting, and raping these victims” – and conducting thousands of extrajudicial killings.
The State Department supported these accusations with satellite photographs showing the construction of the crematorium, and other newly declassified information. The department also cited a February report from Amnesty International about mass hangings at Saydnaya, a report which Syrian dictator Bashar Assad angrily denounced as “fake news” at the time.
Jones said the atrocities at the prison “have been carried out seemingly with unconditional support from Russia and Iran.”
He said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been “firm and clear” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Russia should “use its power to rein in the regime.”
“The regime must stop all attacks on civilians and opposition forces, and Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance,” said Jones.
“We call upon Russia to use its influence with the Assad regime to get it to adhere to a lasting negotiated ceasefire. That ceasefire, we believe, will reduce violence and also ensure unhindered humanitarian access and stop the indiscriminate killings of civilians,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert when introducing the satellite photos of the prison facility and alleged crematorium.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry dismissed these allegations as “lies” and “fabrications” and accused the U.S. of seeking a pretext for military aggression.
“The U.S. 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,” said the Foreign Ministry.