A top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus was killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group’s headquarters, rebel sources and the Syrian army said on Friday.
The death of Zahran Alloush, 44, head of Jaysh al Islam, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al Ghouta, the rebels said.
Defense experts say the disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control over the rest of the area.
Several rebel leaders have been killed since Russia began an aerial campaign on Sept. 30 in support of its ally Assad, although Moscow has insisted that it is concentrating its attacks on Islamic State.
The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes fired at least 10 missiles at a secret headquarters of the group, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and has about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to Western intelligence.
The Syrian army said Alloush was killed as the result of intelligence on the ground. Rebels blamed Russian sophisticated spying planes which they say rarely leave their skies.
A rebel source said the group had chosen one of their top military commanders, Abu Hammam al Buwaidani, as their new head.