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NEW YORK – At lease 500 hardcore mujahedeen from Afghanistan, many of whom were spearheading efforts to fight the U.S. there, have been killed in clashes with Syrian forces this week, claimed a senior Syrian official who spoke to WND.

The claim comes as Reuters reported President Obama signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, quoting U.S. sources familiar with the matter.

According to the report, Obama’s order was approved earlier this year and gives the CIA and other U.S. agencies authority to provide broad support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

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The White House continues to deny directly arming the rebels, stating it is only providing non-lethal aid.

Any U.S. aid to the rebels is highly controversial.

The Syrian official, speaking to WND yesterday, claimed the Afghan mujahedeen died fighting Syrian troops in Aleppo.

Also, WND has learned that Jihadiya Salafia in the Gaza Strip, a group that represents al-Qaida in the coastal territory, earlier this week declared three days of mourning for its own jihadists who died in Syria in recent days.

There are now widespread reports of al-Qaida fighters among the ranks of the opposition, with some jihadist branches reportedly officially joining the U.S.-supported Free Syrian Army.

WND reported in May there is growing collaboration between the Syrian opposition and al-Qaida as well as evidence the opposition is sending weapons to jihadists in Iraq, according to an Egyptian security official who previously spoke to WND.

Amid the fighting in Aleppo, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he is quitting as international peace envoy for Syria. Annan said he is frustrated by “finger-pointing” at the United Nations while the armed rebellion against Assad becomes increasingly bloody.

WND reported that Assad held a meeting last week in which he set the goal of entirely quelling the opposition targeting his regime by October, according to a senior Syrian official.

The official, speaking to WND on condition of anonymity, said Assad ordered his military to rid the Damascus region, including Aleppo, of rebels by the end of Ramadan on Aug. 18. He said Assad believes he can clear the opposition from the region of Homs by Sept. 10 and end the insurgency by October.

The official admitted the coming weeks will be “bloody.” He confirmed Russia stands squarely in the Syrian camp.

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