Source — The New York Times


Syrian crematory is hiding mass killings of prisoners, U.S. says

The United States accused the Syrian government on Monday of using a crematory to hide mass murders at a prison where thousands are believed to have been summarily executed in the nation’s civil war.

The assertion, based on newly declassified satellite photographs of the prison, significantly expanded the accusations the United States has leveled at President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, with some officials appearing to draw a parallel to Nazi Germany.

“The attempt to cover up mass murders in the Assad crematorium is reminiscent of the 20th century’s worst offenses against humanity,” said Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Assad’s forces and their allies have been widely accused by human rights groups and others of killing thousands of prisoners and burying their bodies in mass graves during the course of the war, now in its seventh year.

But the Trump administration went further on Monday, contending that the government was systematically incinerating the corpses of executed inmates at the Sednaya prison complex north of Damascus to destroy evidence that could be used to prosecute war crimes.

“We now believe that the Syrian regime has installed a crematorium in the Sednaya prison complex, which could dispose of detainees’ remains with little evidence,” Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said at a news conference in Washington. “At this point, we are talking about this evidence and bringing it forward to the international community, which we hope will put pressure on the regime to change its behavior.”

Mr. Jones acknowledged that the satellite photographs, taken over the last four years, were not definitive. But in one from 2015, he said, the buildings were covered in snow — except for one, suggesting a significant internal heat source. “That would be consistent with a crematorium,” he said.

Officials added that a discharge stack and architectural elements thought to be a firewall and air intake were also suggestive of a place to burn bodies.

The United Nations is scheduled to begin another round of Syria peace talks in Geneva on Tuesday, and the timing of the accusations seemed intended to pressure Russia, Mr. Assad’s principal foreign ally, into backing away from him.

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