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British Doctor Dies In Syrian Jail, Says Senior British Official

posted 18 Dec 2013, 01:46 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 18 Dec 2013, 01:46 ]

A British surgeon, volunteering in Syria as an emergency doctor, dies in a Syrian jail, say his family and a senior British official.

 (HUMAN AID VIDEO) - A British surgeon who was arrested last November within 48 hours of arriving in Syria to offer his services as an emergency doctor, has died in jail, his family said on Tuesday (December 17).

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The family of Abbas Khan, 32, an orthopedic surgeon from south London who had planned to volunteer in rebel-held Aleppo, was told he would be released this week, his brother Afroze Khan told the BBC. But when his mother went to visit him in prison in Damascus on Monday she was told he had died, he said.

Their reaction to the news was one of "Utter disbelief, shock, despair. We were so close to his release, it's been 13 months of a tortuous, arduous process and we were days within getting him back home," said Abbas's brother Shahnawaz khan.

The BBC reported that a Syrian government official said Khan, a father of two, had committed suicide. But his brother said that was impossible, given that he was preparing to go home with his mother who had spent the past four months in the Syrian capital to be near her son.

The British foreign office said it was "extremely concerned" by the report, and defended its actions.

The foreign office said officials had frequently sought consular access to Khan as well as information on his detention, both directly and through the Russians, Czechs and others. Britain closed its embassy inDamascus in February 2012.

However, Shahnawaz Khan said the British authorities could have done more to help his brother.

"We don't hold them liable, obviously, but a certain degree of responsibility lays at their door for not offering any assistance to us and there were moments when they could have helped and intervened," he said.

"They've had contact with the regime, they've been dealing with them by direct or indirect means, and they could have pressed those channels if they wanted to, but they decided to treat it as if he had been caught breaking some of their trivial laws - but he's actually done nothing wrong. He's gone there out of a moral obligation he felt to help people in need; it's something that our government should support rather than just turning a blind eye," he continued.

Khan said when his mother arrived his brother weighed just 32 kg (70 pounds) and was barely able to walk. In letters Abbas Khan wrote to British Foreign Secretary William Hague, he said he had been tortured in detention and kept in isolated, squalid conditions.

Reuters was not able to reach the Khan family for comment.

Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International's Syria campaigner in the United Kingdom, said the British government should denounce Khan's death and ensure that those responsible were brought to justice.

Hugh Robertson, a minister in the British foreign office said on Tuesday that the Syrian authorities had in effect, murdered Abbas Khan.

"The fact is that he went to Syria to help the people of Syria who were affected by the civil war. There is no excuse whatsoever for the treatment that he has suffered by the Syrian authorities, who have in effect murdered a British national," he said.

A second Briton, 23-year-old Ifthekar Jaman, was reported to have been killed in Syria at the weekend after joining a rebel extremist group opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

The foreign office said it was aware of the report and was seeking clarification, but added again that its options for supporting Britons in Syria were "extremely limited".

A partnership of five universities based at King's College London reported on Tuesday that between 3,300 and 11,000 fighters from more than 70 nations, including a rising number from Western Europe, have joined the struggle in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad.

After security forces repressed peaceful protests against more than 40 years of Assad family rule in 2011, an armed revolt ensued with an increasingly sectarian element.

Well over 100,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes.