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Al-Qaeda-linked rebel commanders killed in Syria's Idlib

Slain militants belonged to Hurras al-Deen, which maintains ties to global network and fights alongside Al-Qaeda's former Syria branch
Man gazes at damaged vehicles after reported Russian air strikes in Syria's Idlib province last month (AFP)

Eight members of an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel group, including six commanders, were killed on Sunday in a missile attack in Syria's northwest, a war monitor said.

They belonged to Hurras al-Deen, which maintains ties to the global militant network and fights alongside Al-Qaeda's former Syria branch, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

HTS dominates Idlib province as well as parts of neighbouring Hama, Aleppo and Latakia. Hurras al-Deen was established in February 2018 and has about 1,800 fighters, according to the Observatory.

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"Six commanders, including two Tunisians, two Algerians, an Egyptian and a Syrian, were killed by a strike targeting a meeting... in an area west of Aleppo," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, updating an earlier toll.

The attack also killed two other members of the group and wounded others, it said, as cited by AFP.

The greater Idlib area was supposed to be protected by a buffer zone under a September 2018 agreement between Russia and Turkey.

That hasn't stopped Damascus, backed by ally Moscow, who since late April have ramped up their bombardment of the region, home to three million people, almost half of whom were displaced from other parts of Syria.

The area under attack is mostly under the control of HTS and Syrian state media outlets say that the escalation is intended to target "terrorist groups" present in the region.

Still, the Syrian Network for Human Rights told MEE that Syrian and Russian forces between 26 April and 27 June had killed at least 518 civilians in Idlib, including 128 children and 97 women, and at least 1,612 civilians had been wounded.

Brigadier Ahmed Rahal, an analyst and military expert who defected from the Syrian government, told MEE: “Ninety percent of the military operations and the attacks led by Damascus and Moscow are against civilians to pressure the fighters."