Britain's 'impotent rage' over surgeon's death in Syria

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Dr Abbas Khan entered Syria as a humanitarian worker from Turkey almost a year ago. Photo: Family Handout

More than 100,000 men, women and children have been killed in Syria’s civil war. It seems perverse to suggest that one more should make things even harder.

But as peace talks approach, the torture and death of Dr Abbas Khan poisons the well at a crucial moment.

It seems certain that President Bashar al-Assad had taken a personal interest in his case.

It would make sense for him to want the British surgeon free - as a gesture of goodwill to Britain, and to the West more widely - to at least warm the atmosphere ahead of Geneva.

We might never know why Dr Khan ended up dead in his cell rather than home safely with his family, but many in Damascus and beyond will suspect there are forces within the regime that want to thwart any prospect of a rapprochement.

From the point of view of Britain, the accusation of murder today sounds like the rage of the impotent.

Ours is a government that has spent three years backing the rebels and demanding Assad’s departure.

Now we are worried about the rebels – dominated increasingly by Islamist hardliners and by al Qaeda – and there are some who argue, with increasing force, that if the West is not going to war with Assad then it needs to start talking to him again.

But at the moment, Britain has drifted into a diplomatic no man’s land - close to none of the most important players in this conflict.

Some might think that’s precisely where Britiain and the West should have been all along.

But governments in London and Washington are not there by choice. They have little leverage with Damascus and little idea of what is really going on inside the regime.