The leader of one of Syria's most prominent rebel units has died of wounds sustained during a strike by government troops last week, his group said, dealing another blow to fighters reeling from a series of recent battlefield losses.
The death of Abdul-Qadir Saleh, founder of the Tawhid Brigade, was announced Monday by opposition groups and activists. The exact moment of Saleh's death is unclear, but a report in the New York Tiimes says he may have died as early as Thursday evening after the raid. It followed advances by President Bashar al-Assad's troops against rebels on two key fronts: the capture of a string of opposition-held suburbs south of Damascus and the taking of two towns and a military base outside the northern city of Aleppo.
The Tawhid Brigade is one of Syria's best known and powerful rebel groups, with an estimated 10,000 fighters, and is particularly strong in Aleppo province. Under Saleh's command, the group last year spearheaded a rebel push that seized large sections of the provincial capital Aleppo.
On Thursday night, a government air strike hit its command post in Aleppo province, according to local activists and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The 34-year-old Saleh was severely wounded and later died in a hospital in Turkey, said a brigade spokesmen who goes by the name of Akram al-Halaby. Many rebels do not use their real names, fearing they or their families will be identified and targeted by security forces.
The strike also killed a senior brigade officer, Abu Tayeb, and wounded another spokesman, Saleh Anadan.
Saleh was buried in his hometown of Marea in Aleppo province, al-Halaby told The Associated Press. The brigade's political chief, Abdul-Aziz Salameh, who was lightly wounded in Thursday's shelling, was appointed to succeed Saleh, he said.
The Tawhid Brigade was once part of the mainstream Free Syrian Army, considered to be the military wing of Syria's exiled Western-backed opposition. But in September, the brigade broke away and later formed the Islamic Authority, a coalition of Islamic rebel groups, including one linked to Al-Qaeda.
Saleh's trajectory reflected that of many ordinary Syrians who joined the armed uprising against Assad's rule. He was a married merchant who took part in peaceful demonstrations that began in March 2011. After a violent crackdown by security forces, Syria's conflict became an armed uprising and Saleh turned to guns.
He founded the Tawhid Brigade some 10 days before rebels overran and seized parts of Aleppo, al-Halaby said.
The Associated Press