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Syria Denies US Accusation of Mass Killings

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium.
Syria Denies US Accusation of Mass Killings
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Syria is denying claims by the United States that the Syrian government kills many prisoners every day.

The U.S. government accuses Syria of burning the bodies of those it has executed in a large crematorium near the capital, Damascus.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the U.S. accusation a “Hollywood story detached from reality.” The state-operated SANA news agency reported the statement.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department said that as many as 50 prisoners are being hanged every day at the Saydnaya prison. It said the government of President Bashar al-Assad then uses the crematorium to destroy the bodies. It accused the government of seeking to hide evidence of the extent of the killings.

Stuart Jones is the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East. He said the government of Syrian President Assad “has sunk to a new level of depravity.”

Jones criticized Russia and Iran for providing military assistance to the Assad regime. Those countries have supported the regime's six-year-long fight against rebel groups attempting to overthrow it.

About 400,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

Jones said the State Department had yet to present evidence of the mass killings to Russian officials. But he said the United States has had, in his words, “an ongoing conversation with the Russians, talking about the problem that their failure to condemn Syrian atrocities -- and their apparent tolerance of Syrian atrocities -- has created. And we have urged the regime -- we urged the Russian government to hold the regime responsible for these atrocities.”

Last month, President Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on Syria after the government’s suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians.

Jones said that the Assad government, in his words, "has treated opposition forces and unarmed civilians as one and the same -- committing widespread violations of international law, including the law of armed conflict and human rights law. Although the regime’s many atrocities are well documented, we believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of the mass murders taking place in Saydnaya.”

He said the American claim about the crematorium is based on information from the U.S. intelligence community and humanitarian groups.

Jones did not give an official estimate about how many people have been killed at Saydnaya. But he noted that Amnesty International reported that between 5,000 and 11,000 people had died at the prison between 2011 and 2015. He said the Syrian government had detained between 65,000 and 117,000 people over the same four-year period.

The State Department released newly declassified satellite photographs of what it said is a building at the prison used as a crematorium. The latest photo was from January 2015. It was not immediately clear why the United States waited to declassify the evidence.

I'm Caty Weaver.

VOA’s Ken Bredemeier and Nike Ching wrote this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

crematorium – n. a place where the bodies of dead people are burned

detached – adj. not connected

extent – n. used to explain the level or degree to which something exists, happens or is true

depravity – n. a very evil quality or way of behaving

regime – n. a form of government

atrocity – n. a very cruel or terrible act or action

tolerance – n. willingness to accept feelings or beliefs that are different from your own

declassify – v. to let the public see or learn about (something that has been a secret)