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Syrian rebel chief, commanders killed in airstrike; Russia and Assad suspected in attack

By
Doug G. Ware
Rebel leader Zahroun Alloush was killed in an airstrike on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on Friday. Rebel forces suspect Russian fighter jets of launching the attack, although Syrian President Bashar Assad is also seen by some as a possible culprit in the strike. Alloush, 44, founded Jaysh al-Islam and served as its main operational chief. File Photo by Ivan1981Roo/Shutterstock
Rebel leader Zahroun Alloush was killed in an airstrike on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, on Friday. Rebel forces suspect Russian fighter jets of launching the attack, although Syrian President Bashar Assad is also seen by some as a possible culprit in the strike. Alloush, 44, founded Jaysh al-Islam and served as its main operational chief. File Photo by Ivan1981Roo/Shutterstock

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- The head and founder of one of the largest rebel factions in Syria was killed in an airstrike during a meeting of opposition forces there, officials said Friday.

About ten rockets were fired at the meeting in Damascus, officials said, killing leader Zahroun Alloush. A deputy leader and other commanders for the Jaysh al-Islam rebel force -- which, supported by the Saudi government, is one of the largest rebel factions in Syria.

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Friday's killing of Alloush, 44, occurred just days after the United Nations passed a resolution laying framework for peace in Syria, which has been ravaged by years of civil war and is emerging as a focus of the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS.

It wasn't immediately clear who was responsible for the airstrike but it's suspected that either the Syrian government or Russian forces -- or a combination of the two -- launched the attack. Jaysh al-Islam blamed Russia for the strike, but neither Syrian or Russian officials formally claimed responsibility.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered airstrikes, in cooperation with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, on rebel and terrorist positions in the country for weeks. The two nations are allied in their fight against rebel forces, which are backed by the United States.

Russia had previously identified Jaysh al-Islam as a terrorist organization. The rebel group has successfully battled ISIS forces in Syria, meaning the deadly strike might have a significant impact on the terror fight there.

Alloush was the founder of the group, also known as the Army of Islam, and its main operational chief. Earlier this month, Alloush members and other insurgent groups attended a summit in Saudi Arabia aimed at continuing peace talks.

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Syria has been ravaged by years of civil war, feuding between the international community and Assad's regime, and waves of attacks launched in the country by Islamic State militants.

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