BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government on Tuesday “categorically” denied U.S. accusations of mass killings at a prison near Damascus, including executing political opponents and burning the victims in a crematorium at the site.
The allegations are “a new Hollywood plot” to justify U.S. intervention in Syria, a statement from the Foreign Ministry said. It described the U.S. State Department accusations from the day before as “lies” and “fabrications,” noting what it called a U.S. track record of making up false claims as a pretext for military aggression.
The State Department said on Monday that it believes about 50 detainees are being hanged each day at the Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes’ drive north of 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 U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, accusing President Bashar Assad’s government of sinking “to a new level of depravity.”
The allegation of mass killings came as President Donald Trump weighs options in Syria, where the U.S. launched cruise missiles on a government air base last month after accusing Assad’s military of killing scores of civilians with a sarin-like nerve agent.
The latest accusations have cast a shadow over Syria peace talks in Geneva, where Syrian government and opposition representatives sat down separately with the U.N. envoy as talks on the war-torn Mideast country got underway on Tuesday.
The meetings were the sixth round of the talks brokered by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.
“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,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said.
The allegation could test the Trump administration’s willingness to respond to atrocities other than chemical weapons attacks Washington blames on Assad’s government.
Western monitors and watchdog groups say they have accumulated evidence of mass killings in Syrian government prisons, though there have not been any substantiated allegations so far of the use of a crematorium.
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 the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use.
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. ___
Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.