Wed, May 17, 2017 - Page 7 News List

US accuses Syria of mass executions

SATELLITE IMAGES:The US Department of State said that about 50 detainees are being hanged at a prison every day before being burned ‘to cover up the murders’

AP, WASHINGTON

The US on Monday accused Syria of executing thousands of imprisoned political opponents and burning their bodies in a crematorium to hide the evidence, while Damascus denied the accusations, calling them a “Hollywood story.”

The allegation of mass killings came as US President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the US launched cruise missiles on a Syrian government air base last month after accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent.

Trump on Monday began a week of meetings with Middle East leaders, sitting down with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi a day before he was to host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Trump is to fly to Saudi Arabia later this week.

All are governments that have pressed the US over six years of civil war in Syria to intervene more forcefully.

Trump had backed away from former US president Barack Obama’s calls for regime change in Syria, with officials saying that leadership questions should be left to Syria’s citizens.

However, after the airstrikes on the base, Trump’s administration says that al-Assad cannot bring long-term stability to Syria.

In its latest accusations of Syrian abuses, the US Department of State said it believed about 50 detainees each day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison near 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 top US diplomat for the Middle East, accusing al-Assad’s government of sinking “to a new level of depravity.”

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 that the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use.

The revelations echoed a report in February 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.

The Syrian government yesterday denied the US’ accusations, saying the claim was devoid of truth.

A Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement published by state news agency SANA said that the US administration had come out with “a new Hollywood story detached from reality” by alleging the crematorium had been built at the prison.

The State Department cast its news conference as an effort to press al-Assad’s key backers, Russia and Iran.

The war has killed as many as 400,000 people since 2011, contributed to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since World War II and enabled the Islamic State group to emerge as a global terrorism threat.

Trump had been highly critical of Obama for failing to respond to earlier chemical weapons attacks in 2013 after setting a “red line” against such usage.

After last month’s attack in northern Syria, Trump said the Syrians crossed “a lot of lines” for his administration.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday reiterated that Syria’s future “should be decided by Syrians in a free credibly and transparent process.”

However, he called such a future “unimaginable” if al-Assad is propped up with help from the “seemingly unconditional support from Russia and Iran.”

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