Zahran Alloush, the commander of the best organised group in the Damascus area, has been killed in an air strike, with conflicting claims about who carried out the attack.
Alloush, head of the Army of Islam, was killed along with five other commanders in an air raid on Friday that targeted the rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta.
The Syrian government claimed responsibility for the operation that killed Alloush. However, some sources said that Russian fighter jets were responsible.
Alloush’s death was a major blow to the Syrian opposition given that he commanded a 20,000 “well-armed rebel force”. “He was always seen as the immediate threat of President Bashar al-Assad,. “His death is going to be reverberating across Syria.”
Abu Hammam Bouwaidani has been named as the successor of Alloush.
Alloush’s death could threaten the future of the peace talks as it could signal that Russia and Syria are “not genuine” in pursuing the negotiations.
As the leader of the Army of Islam, Alloush was considered a charismatic Salafist preacher who enjoyed the support of Saudi Arabia.
But he was also accused of being involved in the abduction of Razan Zaytouneh, a Syrian human-rights campaigner.
Rami Abdul Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Eastern Ghouta was targeted by Russian air strikes on Friday.
Meanwhile, Russian jets also struck a maternity hospital in Azaz, in Aleppo province, killing at least 14 people and injuring several more.
The air strikes have increased in frequency since a Russian fighter jet was shot down by Turkey near the border in November.
In Moscow, the Russian defence ministry said its continuous bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria had cut down oil smuggling into Turkey.
Since its start, Russian armed forces have conducted 5,240 sorties in Syria, the defence ministry said.
In other developments in Syria, a Hezbollah TV station said on Friday that in the refugee camp of Yarmouk, at least 2000 ISIL fighters were expected to be evacuated under a deal.
The deal marks a success for the government of President Bashar al-Assad, increasing its chances of reasserting control over a strategic area adjoining the south of Damascus.
It also highlights the increasing efforts of the UN and foreign governments to bring about local ceasefires and safe-passage agreements as steps towards the wider goal of ending Syria’s war, in which more than 250,000 people have been killed in nearly five years of fighting.
The besieged fighters in Yarmouk also include members of al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria.
Hezbollah’s Manar TV said 18 buses had arrived to start taking them and 1,500 family members to areas under the control of ISIL and other armed opposition groups.
It was not clear whether the buses were provided by the UN or by the Syrian army.
The fighters’ capitulation was forced by a government siege over several years that squeezed the flow of food and humanitarian aid, starving many people to death in what Amnesty International, the international rights group, has described as war crimes.
Source : Aljazeera News