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Grieving mother confronts Syrian officials

While Syrian peace talks in Geneva appear to make progress, one mother demands answers about the death of her son in Syrian custody.

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Geneva: Crying with grief and anger, Fatima Khan stormed forward and shouted: "You killed my son!"

As Syria's warring sides held a sixth day of UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva, the mother of a British doctor who died in the custody of President Bashar al-Assad's regime confronted his aides.

Syria says that Abbas Khan, 32, was found hanging in a prison cell on December 16, 2013, and that he took his own life.

Fatima Khan (centre), mother of Dr Abbas Khan, who died in custody in Syria, reacts as she is challenged by a pro-regime Syrian journalist.

Fatima Khan (centre), mother of Dr Abbas Khan, who died in custody in Syria, reacts as she is challenged by a pro-regime Syrian journalist. Photo: AP

His relatives are adamant the orthopaedic surgeon was killed by his captors. 

Having travelled from Britain to Switzerland and obtained a visitor's pass to the UN's European offices - where the talks were under way behind closed doors - Fatima Khan waited for hours for delegates to emerge and speak to journalists in the garden.

She seized her chance when top Assad aide Buthaina Shaaban came out for the cameras.

Fatima Khan (C), the mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who died in a Syrian jail, is escorted away by friends after trying to speak with members of the Syrian regime in Geneva.

Ms Khan, escorted away by friends after trying to speak with members of the Syrian regime in Geneva. Photo: AFP

Ms Shaaban appeared caught off guard, asking who the distraught woman was.

"The doctor's mother," responded a man in the crowd.

Ms Shaaban did not comment on Ms Khan's charge, simply murmuring: "Let's get away from here."

Fatima Khan, the mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who died in a Syrian jail.

Fatima Khan. Photo: AFP

Ms Khan was ushered away by UN security guards, as reporters from across Syria's divide traded barbs.

A pro-regime journalist told her to get lost, sparking an irony-laced reaction from an anti-regime rival: "In Syria you lay down the law, but not here! So the doctor killed himself? Are you sure you didn't kill him?"

Dr Khan, the father of two children, was detained in November 2012 in the war-ravaged city of Aleppo just 48 hours after entering Syria from Turkey without a visa to help treat victims of hospital bombings. He was about to be released when his family was told of his death.

"For five months he was in a civil prison, and for eight months he was in a torture prison, where they are torturing and killing thousands of people," his mother said.

She received a Syrian visa and visited him behind bars in July 2013.

"When I saw him in prison, he told me, 'Mummy, look, I'm a doctor, I'm a humanitarian aid worker, and look what they did to me. So imagine what they're doing to their own people'," she said.

Despite saying the world should be rid of the Assad regime, Ms Khan denied she had become an opposition tool.

"I'm not representing the opposition, I'm representing half a million mothers inside Syria," she said.

Britain maintains Dr Khan was "in effect murdered" and a Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to his family in December, calling his death a "sickening and appalling tragedy and saying that Damascus must answer for his death.

But the doctor’s brother, Shah Nawaz Khan, blasted Britain’s handling of the case and suggested that British authorities - like their Syrian counterparts - were suspicious of the doctor because he was a Muslim. 

AFP