WASHINGTON, United States (Kurdistan24) – Stuart Jones, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, On Monday charged the Syrian regime with carrying out mass executions and burning the bodies of its victims.
In an extended indictment of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Jones detailed its brutalities at Saydnaya prison, “one of Syria’s largest and most secure prison complexes,” a mere 45-minute drive from Damascus.
Nearly 70 prisoners are detained in cells intended to hold only five people, and as many as 50 detainees are murdered each day.
The carnage is so extensive the regime has even built a crematorium at the Saydnaya complex to conceal the evidence of its crimes, Jones charged, as he distributed overhead photos of the area.
Over 400,000 Syrians have died in Syria’s six-year civil war, Jones stated, and the regime has “routinely” bombed “dense urban areas.”
It has “systematically targeted eastern Aleppo’s hospitals” and abducted and detained upwards of 117,000 people, he added.
Repeatedly, Jones noted the Syrian regime has carried out these atrocities “seemingly with unconditional support from Syria and Iran.”
He explained that when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week, Tillerson told Lavrov Moscow needed “to use its power to rein in the regime.”
Jones was the US observer at the Russian-sponsored talks on Syria two weeks ago in Astana, Kazakhstan, where Turkey, Russia, and Iran agreed upon establishing “de-escalation zones” in that country.
Jones stated, “We have reason to be skeptical” about the Russian plan, in light of the failures of past ceasefire agreements.
The State Department is the lead US agency on Syria and its political future, and this was the first clear and unequivocal statement of serious doubt about the Astana agreement.
Crucial to the success of any cease-fire agreement, Jones stated, it was for the Syrian regime to “stop all attacks on civilians and opposition forces, and Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance.”
Jones reaffirmed the US commitment to the Syrian peace talks that have been held intermittently in Geneva since 2012.
The last round of such talks was held earlier this year, from Feb. 23 to March 3.
“We’re participating in the Geneva process, we support the Geneva process,” he said, adding that along with a Syrian cease-fire, “the political process needs to follow.”
Another round of talks is to begin Tuesday in Geneva, suggesting the administration may intend, through these disclosures, to bring pressure to bear on Assad and his allies to be more flexible.
Jones’ briefing did not address any ramifications of the recently announced US decision to provide arms directly to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria in preparation for liberating Raqqa from IS’ grip.
That includes Turkey’s strong opposition, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will surely raise when he meets with President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
One problem in Syria is that the Trump administration continues a division of labor, established by its predecessor.
The State Department is responsible for helping end Syria’s civil war and developing a political framework to support that goal. The Pentagon is responsible for fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.
US policy on Syria has, thus, been long bedeviled by a lack of forces on the ground to support the diplomacy that the State Department is leading, while the Pentagon’s approach to defeating IS lacks a meaningful vision of the political end-game.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany