Syrian President Bashar Assad has installed a crematorium in his most infamous prison complex in order to hide evidence of mass murder, and is executing as many as 50 people per day, according to newly-declassified U.S. intelligence.
"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," Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of near eastern affairs, told reporters Monday at the State Department. "Although the regimes' many atrocities are well-documented, we believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison."
Saydnaya Prison was branded a "human slaughterhouse" by Amnesty International, which estimates that as many as 13,000 people "were extrajudicially executed" between 2011 and 2015.
Jones added that the regime will put up to 70 prisoners in a cell designed to hold five people before they are killed. The State Department released the additional information in order to put pressure on Russia, which has provided Assad with crucial support.
"Russia holds tremendous influence over Bashar al-Assad," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Monday. "The killing and devastation has gone on for far too long in Syria."
Russian President Vladimir Putin backs Assad because the regime has given Russia strategic benefits, such as access to a naval port on the Mediterranean Sea. Putin's team is hosting a peace talks process in Astana, Kazakhstan, with the goal of ending the Syrian civil war in a way that allows them to retain the geopolitical benefits that first drew them to Assad. Former President Barack Obama's team was not involved in those talks, and preferred a United Nations forum, but President Trump sent Jones to attend a conference in the first week of May.
"Russia initiated the Astana talks as an end run around the Obama administration and the U.N.-sponsored Geneva talks," the Heritage Foundations's Jim Phillips told the Washington Examiner. "The administration appears to be testing Russia's ability to restrain Assad, something it repeatedly has failed to do in the past."
Jones detailed the information about Assad's crematorium as part of a condemnation of Russia's "apparent tolerance of Syrian atrocities" as they support Assad. "We hope that we will now be able to work with the Russians in a constructive way to put pressure on the regime to end these atrocities," he said.