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World

Syria Has Covered Up Prison Executions By Burning The Bodies, U.S. Says

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Trump administration is accusing Syria of burning thousands of bodies at a prison near Damascus to cover up mass murders. The U.S. released images of what it believes is a crematorium and says Russia should use its influence with Syria to end these atrocities. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Human rights groups have documented mass executions and torture at the Sednaya prison, which Syria has denied. Now, the State Department is releasing aerial photos dating back to 2013 with one building on the compound labeled, quote, "probable crematorium." A top State Department official, Stuart Jones, says at least 50 people a day have been killed at that prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

STUART JONES: 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 mass murders taking place in Sednaya prison.

KELEMEN: Jones did not say how the U.S. came to identify the building as a crematorium. The acting assistant secretary of state says the U.S. is releasing the information in part to get Russia to do more to rein in its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Jones was an observer at recent negotiations where Russia, Iran and Turkey came up with a plan for de-escalation zones. He says the U.S. is skeptical.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JONES: There is no solution on Syria without a political process and certainly an end to these atrocities.

KELEMEN: And Russia, Jones says, should take responsibility, something Moscow has not done to date.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JONES: Russia has either aided in or passively looked away as the regime has conducted an airstrike against a U.N. convoy, destroyed East Aleppo and used chemical weapons including sarin against civilians in Idlib province on April 4.

KELEMEN: Syria was high on the agenda when Russia's foreign minister was here in Washington last week. A State Department spokeswoman says that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was, in her words, firm and clear that Russia holds tremendous influence over the Syrian regime. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.