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Syria defends jailing of British doctor who died in prison
Agence France Presse
This undated photo shows Dr Abbas Khan. (The Daily Star/Free Dr Abbas Khan Twitter account)
This undated photo shows Dr Abbas Khan. (The Daily Star/Free Dr Abbas Khan Twitter account)
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DAMASCUS: Syria said Wednesday that a British doctor alleged to have been effectively murdered in custody had hanged himself after being arrested for "unauthorized activities."

Regime warplanes meanwhile pounded Aleppo for a fourth straight day in raids that have killed at least 135 people, many of them children, and overwhelmed the northern city's hospitals, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group, said.

The death of British doctor Abbas Khan in custody just days before he was to be handed over to a British lawmaker sparked a diplomatic row with London, which accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime of effectively murdering the 32-year-old surgeon.

But state news agency SANA said Wednesday that Khan "entered Syrian territory illegally and undertook unauthorised activities," and cited a medical report as saying his death by hanging was "committed by the person himself with the aim of taking his own life."

It added that tests on the body had shown "no trace of violence or resistance."

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad had said on Tuesday that Khan had hanged himself with his pyjamas.

Khan, a volunteer with London-based charity Human Aid UK, had travelled to Aleppo last year to help civilians but was captured by the regime.

His family announced on Tuesday that he had died in detention and said they were "shocked and devastated," as Syrian authorities had promised to release him this week.

Khan's brother Shahnawaz said the government's offer earlier Wednesday to arrange an independent autopsy was "frankly insulting."

"We do not want any more investigations; we want his body to be released and brought home," he said.

Human Aid UK also said it was "incomprehensible" that Khan would commit suicide just a few days before he was hoping to return home and called for a "full investigation."

Syria's regime has been accused of torturing and killing an untold number of prisoners during the nearly three-year uprising, in which an estimated 126,000 people have been killed.

The Observatory, which relies on activists, medics and other witnesses across the war-torn country, said it had documented "hundreds" of cases in which the regime said prisoners committed suicide when in fact they were tortured to death.

Death toll rises in aerial bombardment of Aleppo In Aleppo, Syria's second city and onetime commercial hub, a regime bombing campaign continued for a fourth straight day, with helicopters and other aircraft dropping crude barrel bombs filled with TNT onto rebel-held enclaves, the Observatory said.

Sunday's first day of raids produced the highest daily toll, with 76 dead in six neighbourhoods, among them 28 children, the group said.

Monday saw 20 dead, including four children, and eight children were among 39 killed on Tuesday.

Doctors without Borders said Tuesday that already overstretched hospitals saw a flood of new casualties and had requested additional medical supplies.

One Syrian security source denied that barrel bombs have been used against what the regime calls "terrorists," but another said the military prefers such weapons over missiles because they are cheaper.

The opposition National Coalition has said the "systematic raids on Aleppo demonstrate the regime's rejection of a political solution."

A UN-backed peace conference dubbed Geneva 2 is due to be held in the Swiss city of Montreux on January 22.

In the run-up to that conference, US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said Wednesday that a powerful new alliance of Islamist rebel groups has refused to meet with American officials.

"The Islamic Front has refused to sit with us without giving any reason," Ford said in an interview on Al-Arabiya television, a day after Secretary of State John Kerry described as "possible" a meeting with Syria's biggest rebel alliance.

Washington has said it is already meeting with a broad cross-section of Syrian groups to try to end the war through negotiations, but has explicitly ruled out any contacts with those linked to Al-Qaeda or designated as terrorists by the United States.

In another development, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Russian armoured trucks tracked by US satellite equipment and Chinese cameras would help ship Syria's weapons out of the country.

The details were spelled out in a blueprint released Wednesday by the OPCW, charged with implementing a UN-backed plan to eradicate Syria's chemical arsenal by mid-2014.

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