by Eli Leon, the News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Some 50 people a day are hanged at Saydnaya military prison, burned in crematorium "to cover up extent of mass murders," says U.S. State Department official during press briefing, showing aerial images of what he says is crematorium.
Jones said U.S. officials believe the crematorium could be used to dispose of bodies at a prison where they believe Assad's government authorized the mass hangings of thousands of inmates during Syria's six-year-old civil war.
"We now believe that the Syrian regime has installed a crematorium in the Saydnaya prison complex which could dispose of detainees' remains with little evidence. Credible sources have believed that many of the bodies have been disposed in mass graves," Jones told reporters. During the briefing, he showed aerial images of what he said was a crematorium.
The revelations echoed a February report 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.
These allegations, which come as U.S. President Donald Trump has been weighing options in Syria, where the U.S. launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad's military of killing dozens of civilians using chemical weapons, could test the Trump administration's willingness to respond to atrocities, other than chemical weapons attacks, which it blames on Assad's government.
Trump had been highly critical of former President Barack Obama for failing to respond to earlier chemical weapons attacks in 2013 after setting a "red line" against such atrocities. After last month's attack in northern Syria, Trump said the Syrians crossed "a lot of lines" for his administration. However, beyond authorizing cruise missiles in response, he didn't outline a strategy to eliminate the threat.
Trump had backed away from Obama's calls for regime change in the Arab country, with the new president's officials pointedly saying leadership questions should be left to Syria's citizens, until his intervention last month. His administration now says Assad cannot bring long-term stability to Syria.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday reiterated the administration's line that Syria's future "should be decided by Syrians in a free credibly and transparent process."
But he called such a future "unimaginable" if Assad is propped up with help from the "seemingly unconditional support from Russia and Iran." He didn't outline how such a future might become imaginable.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had been "firm and clear" in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week that "Russia holds tremendous influence over Bashar al-Assad."
A main point of that meeting "was telling Russia to use its power to rein in the regime," she said. "Simply put, the killing, the devastation has gone on for far too long in Syria."
Russia has shown no inclination to drop its support for Assad and it is now pushing the idea of "de-escalation zones" that would be designed to reduce violence, while not challenging Assad's authority over almost all of Syria's major cities.
Jones said he was not optimistic about the Russian "de-escalation zones" inside Syria. The deal was reached with support from Iran and Turkey during cease-fire talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana earlier this month.
"In light of the failures of the past cease-fire agreements, we have reason to be skeptical," Jones said.
Jones said Assad's government had carried out airstrikes, chemical attacks, extrajudicial killings, forced starvation and other measures to target civilians and its opponents. He criticized Russia and Iran for maintaining their support for Assad despite those tactics.
Trump on Monday kicked off a week of meetings with Middle East leaders, sitting down with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi a day before hosting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a regional key player in resolving the Syrian crisis. Trump is also scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia later this week, after which he will be traveling to Israel and the Palestinian Authority on his first foreign trip as president.
Eli Leon, the News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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