On May 15 U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert was joined by Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones at the U.S. Department of State to present an update on the six-year crisis in Syria after his recently return from the talks in Astana. Two weeks ago, Acting Assistant Secretary Jones attended the Astana conference, a meeting in Kazakhstan to discuss implementation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement, as the U.S. observer.
Spokesperson Nauert began by providing additional content to the meeting Secretary Tillerson had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Washington, D.C. last week where he noted the tremendous influence Russia hold over Bashar al-Assad. Spokesperson Nauert reiterated, “We call upon Russia to use its influence with the Assad regime to get it to adhere to a lasting negotiated ceasefire. That ceasefire, we believe, will reduce violence and also ensure unhindered humanitarian access and stop the indiscriminate killings of civilians. These actions will help create the conditions on the ground for a political resolution of that conflict.”
Acting Assistant Secretary Jones announced the United States would be releasing newly declassified reporting and photos that underscore the depths to which the Syrian regime has gone with the continuing support of its allies Russia and Iran. The facts presented were based on reporting from international and local nongovernmental organizations, press reporting, and also Intelligence Community assessments. Acting Assistant Secretary Jones said, “The continued brutality of the Assad regime, including its use of chemical weapons, presents a clear threat to regional stability and security as well as to the national security interests of the United States and our allies.”
According to the United Nations and human rights organizations, the Syrian civil war has claimed more than 400,000 lives, many of which were civilians. The Assad regime’s actions include well-documented airstrikes and artillery strikes; chemical weapons attacks; arbitrary arrests; extrajudicial killings; starvation; sexual violence; and denial of essential services such as food, water, and medical care to the civilian population.
Since 2012, the regime has routinely conducted airstrikes and artillery strikes in dense urban centers, including with barrel bombs, improvised unguided bombs, which are sometimes described as air-dropped IEDs. In addition to airstrikes, the regime continues to systematically abduct and torture civilian detainees, often beating, electrocuting, and raping these victims. A former regime photo-documentarian working under the name Caesar has shared more than 10,000 photos of Assad’s victims with the international community. According to numerous NGOs, the regime has abducted and detained between 65,000 and 117,000 people between 2011 and 2015.
Moreover, the regime has also authorized the extrajudicial killings of thousands of detainees using mass hangings at the Saydnaya military prison. Saydnaya is but one of many detention facilities where prisoners are being held and abused. Others include the Mezzeh airport detention facility and Military Security Branches 215, 227, 235, 248, and 291, which are all located throughout Syria.
During the Astana conference led by Turkey, Russia, and Iran-- the guarantors of the Astana process -- it was agreed to create de-escalation zones that would reduce violence and save lives. Acting Assistant Secretary Jones acknowledged U.S. skepticism given the failures of the past ceasefire agreements. He reiterated the need for the regime to stop all attacks on civilians and opposition forces, and that Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance. He noted that Russia joined the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which demands that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians.
Acting Assistant Secretary Jones closed his remarks, stating, “Russia must now with great urgency exercise its influence over the Syrian regime to guarantee that horrific violations stop now.”
Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.
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