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Body of UK doctor who died in Syria returned

middleast1DAMASCUS: The body of British doctor Abbas Khan who died in a Syrian jail was brought to Lebanon yesterday for repatriation, as Human Rights Watch accused Damascus of "wreaking disaster" in Aleppo. Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, meanwhile, held talks with Iran's foreign minister on the Syrian conflict, after negotiators failed to agree on a role for Tehran in an international peace conference next month. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Khan's body was returned to his family and to British officials in Lebanon.

"An ICRC convoy left Damascus today at 11 am (0900 GMT) and returned the body of Dr Khan to Beirut, Lebanon, where United Kingdom officials received it," the ICRC said in a statement. "The British embassy in Lebanon is expected to rapidly fly the body to London, where it will be received by the family," it added. An AFP photographer saw the remains being handed over to his family and to British officials at the Hotel Dieu hospital in Beirut. London and a Syrian rights group have held Damascus responsible for Dr Khan's death in a Syrian jail. But Syrian authorities said on Wednesday the doctor was found "hanging" in his cell, where he was being held for "unauthorised activities," and that he had committed suicide. Khan, a volunteer with London-based charity Human Aid UK, had travelled to Aleppo in northern Syria last year to help civilians when he was arrested by the regime.

Regime 'wreaking disaster in Aleppo'
Also yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the authorities of "wreaking disaster" on Aleppo in northern Syria, with a massive bombing campaign that has killed hundreds. "Government forces have really been wreaking disaster on Aleppo in the last month, killing men, women, and children alike," said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW. "The Syrian air force is either criminally incompetent, doesn't care whether it kills scores of civilians - or deliberately targets civilian areas," Solvang added.

The statement comes six days after the launch of a massive aerial campaign against opposition-held areas of Aleppo, once Syria's commercial capital, involving dozens of warplane strikes and helicopter attacks using TNT-packed barrels. The New York-based organisation cited the Syrian Network for Human Rights as saying 232 civilians were killed from December 15 to 18 in and around the northern city. HRW concluded that the attacks, targeting both Aleppo city and its province, showed "government forces had used means and methods of warfare that... could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, making attacks indiscriminate and therefore unlawful". It also lashed out at rebels for firing rockets and mortar rounds into civilian areas in government-controlled parts of Aleppo.

The city has been split into rebel and regime-controlled areas since mid-summer 2012 when rebels launched an offensive to try to take Syria's second city. The violence comes despite preparatory discussions for peace talks due for Jan 22 in Switzerland, which should bring together opposition and regime representatives. There has been no agreement yet on whether key Damascus backer Iran will participate in the talks.

Yesterday, peace envoy Brahimi talked by phone with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the latest on the 'Geneva 2' conference," the ministry said. Zarif, it said, "insisted on a political solution" that includes talks between the parties to the conflict which has claimed some 126,000 lives since it erupted nearly three years ago. On Friday, Brahimi had said negotiators had failed to reach agreement on whether Iran should be invited to the peace talks, but that Tehran was not yet "off the list" of participants. "It's no secret that we in the United Nations welcome the participation of Iran, but our partners in the United States are still not convinced that Iran's participation would be the right thing," said Brahimi. While Iran backs President Bashar Al-Assad's regime, the United States has insisted he should be excluded from a future transition. - AFP


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This article was published on 21/12/2013