Sat, Sep 10, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Airstrike in Aleppo kills leader of rebel alliance

‘MARTYRDOM’:A rights group monitor said it was not clear whether Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s leader was killed by a government, Russian or US-led coalition airstrike

AFP, BEIRUT

An airstrike near Syria’s battleground second city of Aleppo killed the military leader of the largest rebel alliance and at least one other commander, sources and a monitor said on Thursday.

The strike on a meeting of commanders of the Army of Conquest alliance came hot on the heels of a major defeat for the rebels, which saw them under renewed siege inside Aleppo after an army advance this week.

Former al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front, renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham when it broke ties in July, announced on Twitter “the martyrdom” of commander Abu Omar Saraqeb in an airstrike.

Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is a leading member of the Army of Conquest, which groups its fighters with factions like Ahrar al-Sham in the most prominent anti-regime alliance.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, said unidentified aircraft hit the Army of Conquest meeting on Thursday night, killing Saraqeb and another rebel commander named as Abu Muslim al-Shami.

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said it was not immediately clear whether the strike was carried out by the US-led coalition, the Syrian regime or its Russian ally — all of whom are conducting bombing raids in northern Syria.

According to the observatory, Abu Omar Saraqeb was a leading member of al-Qaeda in Iraq in its fight against the US-led occupation after 2003 before becoming a key commander of al-Nusra Front and then Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in Syria.

He reportedly also founded al-Nusra Front’s Lebanon branch, which has claimed responsibility for several bombings in Syria’s western neighbor.

He operates under different noms de guerre, making it difficult to know his nationality.

He led a successful offensive by the Army of Conquest in spring last year, which saw it seize control of nearly all of the northwestern province of Idlib.

However, the alliance has been less successful in and around Aleppo, where it was dealt a major blow by regime forces this week.

Early last month, Saraqeb led an offensive against pro-government fighters besieging the rebel-held east of the divided city and opened up a new supply route from the south that broke the siege.

However, this week regime loyalists recaptured nearly all of the territory taken last month and reimposed the blockade.

Jihadism expert Charles Lister said Saraqeb had helped found the Army of Conquest last year and once served as the “emir” of Idlib Governorate.

Amid Syria’s fractious rebel movement, “he’s seen widely as an Islamist unifier,” Lister wrote.

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