(THE GUARDIAN) – The leader of one of the most powerful rebel groups in Syria appears to have been killed in an airstrike near the capital. A well-placed rebel source told the Guardian that Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam, one of the largest opposition groups that commands thousands of fighters on the ground near Damascus, was killed in an airstrike on Friday.
His death was first reported by the Reuters news agency citing two rebel sources. The Syrian state news agency said Alloush was killed in the eastern Ghouta region, where Jaysh al-Islam holds sway. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a network with wide contacts inside Syria, said aircraft targeted a meeting of Jaysh al-Islam's leadership in eastern Ghouta, killing Alloush and five other senior leaders.
If true, the death of Alloush, who is reportedly backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, will be a major blow to the opposition.
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The fact that the airstrikes targeted a meeting of the group's leadership represents an intelligence coup for the Syrian government and its foreign backer, Russia, which has led the reconnaissance and surveillance efforts since it intervened on behalf of Bashar al-Assad's regime back in October. "The news has reached us, that is God's will and we pray that God has mercy on him," said a source in Jaysh al-Fateh, one of the strongest rebel coalitions in Syria, which includes fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida affiliate in the country.