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Syria rebel chief Zahran Alloush killed near capital

Alloush and five other commanders were killed 'in an air strike that targeted one of their meetings in Eastern Ghouta'
Zahran Alloush, general commander of the Jaysh al-Islam Syrian rebel group, delivering a recorded speech from an undisclosed location in Syria 25 July 25 2013 (AFP/YouTube)

Zahran Alloush, head of the powerful Jaish al-Islam Syrian rebel group, was killed on Friday east of Damascus, a monitoring group and Syria's opposition said.

His death "stands as one of the most significant opposition losses" of Syria's nearly five-year uprising against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, analyst Charles Lister said on Twitter. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said Alloush and five other commanders were killed "in an air strike that targeted one of their meetings in Eastern Ghouta". Leaders from Ahrar al-Sham were also reportedly killed in the attack.

The death of Alloush, 44, was confirmed on Twitter by the head of Syria's opposition National Coalition, who posted a message of condolence. 

Syria's state television channel also reported the death by air strike, but did not say who had carried out the raid. 

Rebel sources indicated that the air strike was conducted by the Russians, the Guardian reported, although Russia's state-run media claimed that the strike was conducted by Syrian forces.

Syria's army command reportedly said it had conducted the operation that killed Alloush as part of its "national mission", the Telegraph reported.

Jaish al-Islam is the most prominent rebel faction in the Eastern Ghouta region, an opposition bastion east of the capital, and was recently represented at landmark opposition talks in Saudi Arabia.

The Syrian government regularly refers to the group and other rebels and dissidents as "terrorists".

Alloush's death comes after Syria's army announced a massive operation to retake rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. Pro-Assad forces have been backed by Russian air strikes since 30 September.  

Jaish al-Islam was known to have supported the establishment of a Sharia-based state before recently moving towards a more "moderate" position.

Alloush spent at least two years in Syrian prisons before being released in a general amnesty in June 2011.

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