Senior rebel leader killed in airstrike near Damascus
A monitoring group reported on Friday that the Chief of Jaish al-Islam, Zahran Alloush, a major armed rebel group operating in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, was killed along with some aides in an airstrike near Damascus.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement in London that a warplane targeted a meeting, attended by Alloush and other leaders of Jaish al-Islam in the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.
It said five aides of Alloush were also killed in the attack, the Britain-based watchdog said.
The Observatory said the strike was mounted while the leaders were discussing preparations for an attack on Syrian regime forces and allied fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement.
'It is not clear whether the warplane was Russian or Syrian.''
Meanwhile, Ousama Abu-Zeid, the Legal Adviser of the Free Syrian Army, said the warplanes were Russian and that they hit the venue of the meeting with 20 rockets.
He said his group mainly controls areas in eastern Ghouta and was present at the opposition talks which took place in Saudi Arabia earlier last week to unite ranks and reach groups for possible peace negotiations with the regime forces in Geneva.
'Like all respected military groups, the death of the leader will not stop their political or military work. We believe that the retaliation will be tough.''
Jaish al-Islam has strongholds in the two Damascus suburbs of Douma and Eastern Ghoutta.
The Syrian state TV also confirmed that Alloush was killed along with his aides, but did not mention how.
Jaish al-Islam was reportedly responsible for shelling the capital Damascus on several occasions.
The Head of Syria's Opposition National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, also confirmed the death of Alloush.
He urged the Gouta's factions to work hand-in-hand to fill the voids and complement the mission.
According to activists based in Syria, Alloush was in a meeting of his group's top leadership in the Marj al-Sultan neighbourhood in Eastern Ghouta when the strike took place.
His death came as the regime and Hezbollah, backed by Russian warplanes, said they were carrying a major operation to retake rebel-held eastern Ghouta.
It said Alloush focused on preventing the expansion of Islamic State militants in areas on the outskirts of Damascus.
It recalled that in a recent interview in December, Alloush said: 'We want to rid our country of all dictatorial and terrorist projects.'
Alloush, who spent at least two years in Syrian prisons, was released in a general amnesty in June 2011, a few months after the Syrian revolution erupted.