US: “Attempt to cover up mass murders in the Assad crematorium is reminiscent of the 20th century’s worst offenses against humanity”
- Video: US Strike in Eastern Syria Kills Scores
- Strike at Hospital in Opposition-Held Azaz
- Political Talks Resume in Geneva
- Last Removals from Damascus Suburb of Qaboun
The Assad regime has built a crematorium at a prison, near Syria’s capital Damascus, where thousands of prisoners have been killed or died from abuse and poor conditions, according to the US State Department.
Stuart Jones, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said, “Credible sources have believed that many of the bodies have been disposed in mass graves,” showing aerial images of the claimed crematorium.
“The attempt to cover up mass murders in the Assad crematorium is reminiscent of the 20th century’s worst offenses against humanity,” said Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
In February, Amnesty International reported from witnesses that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were secretly hanged between 2011 and 2015 in Sednaya Prison. Every week and often twice a week, groups of up to 50 detainees were killed.
The information supplemented the pictures of a prison photographer, codenamed Caesar, who defected in August 2013. The photos establish the deaths of at least 6,786 detainees, whose bodies were taken to two military hospitals near prisons in Damascus.
The US claim raised the possibilities that the deaths from abuse, if not executions, at Sednaya did not end in late 2015 but are ongoing.
However, human rights groups said some of the satellite photographs have existed for years and are not conclusive.
“There still needs to be a lot of research done,” said Geoffrey Mock, a Middle East specialist at Amnesty.
Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN tribunal compiling evidence of possible war crimes, said, “I don’t have any information concerning this crematorium.”
Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state, said US officials believed the crematory was created in 2013.
Since then, Syrian witnesses, including former detainees on the Mezzeh airbase have said that they either saw the burning of bodies or smelled odors that made them wonder if bodies were being burned. Several mentioned an unpleasant smell like burning hair near the prison or military facilities, or in areas recently taken by pro-government forces. People living nearby said they had smelled something like burning hair but were unsure whether it was from animals.
Jones also cited ongoing airstrikes, chemical attacks, extrajudicial killings, and starvation by the Assad regime against civilians. He criticized Russia and Iran for maintaining support of Assad despite the attacks and sieges.
The Assistant Secretary said that, because of the regime’s activities, the State Department is not optimistic about a Russia-led proposal for four “de-escalation zones” inside Syria.
In light of the failures of the past ceasefire agreements, we have reason to be skeptical….
These atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran. The (Assad) regime must stop all attacks on civilian and opposition forces. And Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance.
But Robert Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, is sceptical that the US Government will act on the further information about the deaths of detainees.
easy prediction: no one will do anything to stop such killings, and there will never be accountability for the top Syrian officials. https://t.co/RfWLOqgj47
— Robert Ford (@fordrs58) May 16, 2017
TOP PHOTO: US aerial image of Sednaya Prison near Damascus, given to journalists, May 15, 2017
Video: US Strike in Eastern Syria Kills Scores
A US airstrike near Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, has reportedly killed scores of civilians in the ISIS-held area.
Accounts are claiming up to 60 fatalities.
Warning — Graphic Images:
— Khaled AL Homsi (@PalmyraPioneer) May 16, 2017
The coalition claimed that it did not conduct air strikes on Abu Kamal on Monday.
On Sunday, 12 women were killed by a US strike on vehicles carrying farm workers home from field near the village of Akayrsh in eastern Raqqa Province, according to local sources.
Twelve other women were wounded.
US attacks this year have killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians, across northern and eastern Syria.
Strike at Hospital in Opposition-Held Azaz
Dozens of staff at hospital in Azaz in northwest Syria are on strike after not being paid for six months.
Doctors, nurses, technicians, and administrators at the Ahli Hospital, 6 km (3.7 miles) south of the Turkish border, said they will not return to work until the they receive the back pay. The strike includes all staff members including physicians, nurses, technicians and administrators. The hospital remains closed.
The International Medical Corps, a US-based humanitarian organization, has not provided salaries since last November.
Staff have working one or two days per week since then, hoping for a resolution of the situation.
But Dr. Abdul Ghani said, “We reached a point where we could no longer talk about being patient.”
Political Talks Resume in Geneva
The sixth round of indirect talks in Geneva between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition opened on Tuesday.
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura met the Syrian regime delegation, led by the Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Ja’afari, today.
The new round of talks is expected to end on Friday. The delegation from the Syrian regime is headed by Bashar al-Ja’aafari.
The talks, scheduled to end Friday, are on four topics: governance, a new constitution, elections, and combatting of “terrorism”. They have made little progress since late January in the face of ongoing pro-Assad attacks and sieges and President Assad’s refusal to give up power during or after a transition.
Last week Assad denounced the process as “null” and “merely a meeting for the media”.
De Mistura played down Assad’s remarks on Monday:
If being a mediator and trying to find common points (means) “being used”, I would accept that. The alternative is no discussion, no hope, no political horizon, just waiting for facts on the ground to take place.
The envoy said he was “encouraged by the increasing engagement, the increasing interest, by the US administration in finding a de-escalation”, accompanying a Russian-led proposal for four “de-escalation zones”.
Last Removals from Damascus Suburb of Qaboun
The last set of removals has been carried out from the Damascus suburb of Qaboun, which finally submitted to the Assad regime last week after years of siege and a three-month aerial and ground assault.
About 1,300 rebels and civilians left the town on Monday, completing the forced removal of more than 3,000 in two days. They went to opposition areas of East Ghouta near the Syrian capital or to Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
The regime’s military released a statement saying it had “returned peace and security to the Qaboun area”.
Since last August, pro-Assad attacks have forced a series of capitulations around Damascus, from Darayya and Moadamiya to the southwest to Wadi Barada to the northwest to Barzeh and Qaboun to the northeast.
The final offensive against Barzeh and Qaboun, as well as nearby Tishreen, began in February and continued despite the Russian-led proposal for “de-escalation areas” earlier this month.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) May 15, 2017
Meanwhile, pro-Assad attacks on East Ghouta continue to defy the Russian-declared de-escalation zone. Footage of a strike on Hamouriya, causing several casualties, including children:
People from Qaboun en route to Idlib Province in northwest Syria (STEP News Agency)