Syrian rebels appoint successor to commander slain in airstrike

BEIRUT -- Militant groups in Syria on Saturday mourned the death of a powerful rebel commander killed the previous day in an airstrike near Damascus -- a high-profile assassination that may shift the balance of power in rebel-held suburbs of the country's capital.

See Full Article

Zahran Allouch, the head of the Army of Islam group, was killed in an airstrike that targeted the group's headquarters during a meeting on Friday. He was instantly killed along with a number of commanders from the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham and the Faylaq al-Rahman groups.

His death may also have contributed -- at least partially -- to a delay in the agreed-on pullout of thousands of militants and their families from neighbourhoods on the southern edge of Damascus.

The pullout, which was supposed to start on Saturday, was to involve mainly militants from the Islamic State group who earlier this year overran the Yarmouk area, which is home to a Palestinian refugee camp and has been hotly contested and fought-over in the Syrian conflict, and two adjacent neighbourhoods.

A Palestinian official in Damascus, Anwar Abdulhadi, told The Associated Press that the withdrawal is being delayed for "logistical reasons." But Lebanon's Hezbollah-run TV station Al Manar said that Allouch was a key figure in arranging the rare deal, and that his assassination has delayed its implementation. The report could not be immediately confirmed by the AP.

Allouch's killing -- a month before peace talks are scheduled to begin between the Syrian government and opposition rebel groups -- is a blow to insurgents fighting to topple President Bashar Assad and a boost to government forces who have been bolstered by the Russian military intervention in Syria in the past few months.

Syrian government forces have been on the offensive in several parts of the country since Russia began its military campaign in late September to shore up Assad's forces.

The Army of Islam took part earlier this month in an opposition meeting held in Saudi Arabia to agree on an opposition delegation that would negotiate with Assad's government representatives in peace talks planned for late January in Geneva. The Syrian government describes the group as "terrorists" and has said it will not negotiate with such factions.

The Syrian army claimed responsibility for the airstrike that killed Allouch, although many among the opposition blamed Russia.

"The martyrdom of Sheikh Zahran Allouch should be a turning point in the history of the revolution and rebel groups should realize they are facing a war of extermination by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's regime," said Labib Nahhas, a senior member of the Ahrar al-Sham group.

"The next stage will witness the liquidation of those leaders who began the uprising," wrote Abu Hassan al-Muhajer, another senior member of the group on Twitter.

Other insurgent groups, including the al-Qaida branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, lamented his killing.

The Army of Islam group swiftly appointed Essam al-Buwaydhani, a field commander known as Abu Hammam, as the new leader of the group, replacing Allouch.

In a video posted on the Internet late Thursday, a spokesman for the Army of Islam said Allouch's killing "will only increase our fight" against Assad's government and the Islamic State group.

"We are moving forth on the path, and we do not change or alter," the unidentified speaker said, reading from a statement.

In a statement, the Nusra Front said Allouch died after years of "sacrifice" and wished his successor luck.

Allouch, who was in his mid-40s, was widely known to be supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He was one of the most powerful rebel commanders with thousands of fighters controlling large parts of the eastern Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta and Douma. In addition to fighting government forces, the Army of Islam faction fought pitched battles against its rival, the Islamic State group near Damascus.

A former prisoner who was released in a general amnesty after the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, Allouch joined the armed opposition and formed the Army of Islam -- which soon became one of the most organized rebel factions in Syria.

Critics accused him of sectarian politics and brutal tactics similar to that of the Islamic State group.

He is blamed by other opposition groups for the December 2013 disappearance of four prominent activists, including human rights activist and lawyer Razan Zaytouni. He has denied holding them, although they were abducted from an area under Army of Islam control.

Earlier this year, after government airstrikes on the suburbs of Damascus killed dozens, Allouch's fighters forced some Alawites whom his group was holding into cages that were then displayed in public areas and markets, using them as human shields to try to prevent further airstrikes. Alawites are a Shiite offshoot to which Assad's family also belongs.

The large metal cages with men and women inside were then put on pick-up trucks that drove around Damascus suburbs.

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Tory leadership contenders make pitches for votes

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    TORONTO — The last time Conservative party faithful gathered en masse in Toronto it was to hear from former leader and prime minister Stephen Harper. On Friday, they met in the same location, this time to hear from the 13 people vying to replace him. Source
  • Alberta police seek man who steals lottery tickets, flees in stolen cars

    Canada News CTV News
    RED DEER, Alta. -- Police in central Alberta are looking for help to nab a man who steals trays of lottery tickets from convenience stores, then escapes in stolen vehicles. The man went into an Express 24 in Red Deer, Alta. Source
  • Jared Kushner had undisclosed contacts with Russian envoy: sources

    World News CBC News
    U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States during and after the 2016 presidential campaign, seven current and former U.S. Source
  • Russian bankers sue BuzzFeed over unverified Trump dossier

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- The owners of a Russian bank are suing BuzzFeed for publishing an uncorroborated dossier that alleged they were part of a Russian scheme to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan of Alfa Bank filed the defamation lawsuit Friday in Manhattan. Source
  • B.C. political parties very close to reaching deal, Green leader says

    Canada News CTV News
    VICTORIA -- Green Leader Andrew Weaver says he's very close to making a deal with either the Liberals and the New Democrats on forming a new minority government in British Columbia. He said negotiations between the parties have intensified since Elections BC confirmed the province's election results earlier this week with the Liberals holding 43 seats in the legislature to the NDP's 41 and the Greens' three. Source
  • Saskatchaheist: Beer destined for Prairie neighbour stolen from Edmonton holding yard

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    About $160,000 worth of beer destined for Saskatchewan was stolen from a holding yard in Edmonton earlier this month. Police said Friday that two semi-trucks and trailers filled largely with beer were stolen at around 7 p.m. Source
  • Tim Kaine’s son, 7 others charged for allegedly disrupting pro-Trump event

    World News Toronto Sun
    ST. PAUL, Minn. — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s youngest son was among eight people charged for allegedly disrupting a March rally in support of U.S. President Donald Trump. Linwood “Woody” Kaine, of Minneapolis, was charged Friday with one gross misdemeanour count of obstructing the legal process and misdemeanour counts of fleeing on foot and concealing his identity in public. Source
  • Former Texas nurse accused of killing dozens of kids in '80s

    World News CTV News
    DALLAS -- A Texas nurse who is in prison for the 1982 killing of a toddler has been charged with murder in the death of an infant a year earlier, and authorities said Friday that they think she may have killed up to 60 young children around that time. Source
  • 'Anti-fascist' activist charged for allegedly hitting Trump supporters with a bicycle lock at clashing Berkeley rallies

    World News Toronto Sun
    SAN FRANCISCO — A former San Francisco Bay Area community college philosophy teacher and “anti-fascist” activist was charged Friday with hitting several people in the head with a bicycle lock during a violent clash between supporters and detractors of U.S. Source
  • D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo's life sentences overturned

    World News Toronto Sun
    MCLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia’s most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings. In his ruling, U.S. Source