Body of UK doctor who died in Syria released

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BEIRUT (AP) - The International Committee of the Red Cross handed over to British officials Saturday the body of a U.K. doctor who died this week in Syrian government custody.

The circumstances in which Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopedic surgeon from London, died while in detention in Syria remain in dispute. A senior British official has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's government of effectively murdering Khan, while the Syrian authorities say the doctor committed suicide and there was no sign of violence or abuse.

On Saturday, a Red Cross convoy carrying Khan's body from Damascus arrived in Lebanon's capital of Beirut, where British officials received it, the Red Cross said in a statement.

At Beirut's Hotel-Dieu de France hospital, medics unloaded the wooden coffin that will later be transported to Britain. Khan's mother, who was there to meet it, broke down in tears.

"The national security intelligence of Syria, they killed him!" Fatima Khan screamed. "They're murderers!"

In London, the Foreign Office said in a statement that "responsibility for Dr. Khan's death lies with the Syrian authorities and we are pressing for answers about what happened."

Khan's death came only days before he apparently was due to be freed, said British lawmaker George Galloway, who had been negotiating with Syrian authorities to secure the doctor's release. Galloway said he'd been told that Assad himself had ordered the doctor's release and that Khan had been expected home before Christmas.

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Khan hanged himself, and that an examination of the body and X-rays showed no sign of violence or struggle.

The family has dismissed the government's claim that Khan committed suicide as nonsense.

Hugh Robertson, charged with the Foreign Office's Mideast remit in the Middle East, has said Assad's government "in effect murdered a British national who was in their country to help people."

Syrian government troops seized Khan in the northern city of Aleppo in November 2012 after his family said he entered the country on a humanitarian mission. Khan said in letters cited by the BBC that his captors repeatedly beat him for sport, and that he was forced to abuse other prisoners.

More than 1,000 people are thought to have died in the custody of Syrian state security, according to London-based Amnesty International. The United Nations General Assembly in recent days also approved a resolution expressing outrage at "widespread and systematic gross violations" by Syrian authorities.

Syria's civil war, now into its third year, has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists, while millions have been forced from their homes by the fighting.


Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas in Beirut and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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