The head of Syria's air defenses was killed in clashes near the capital, Damascus, activists said Sunday, one of a few high-ranking military officers to die in the country's 3-year-old civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain, said General Hussein Ishaq died of wounds suffered during a military offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against rebels in Mleih, a Damascus suburb, where the Air Defense administration has a large base.
A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief journalists about Ishaq's death said the general died Saturday.
The monitoring group said the general died on Sunday from wounds suffered on Saturday.
The Observatory, which bases its reports on a network of activists on the ground, said Ishaq was killed in clashes with fighters from the Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and other Islamic rebel groups.
State media made no mention of Ishaq's reported death but pro-Assad Internet sites said he had been “martyred” in Mleiha, which has seen heavy fighting for several days and is close to the road linking central Damascus to the international airport.
Ishaq was one of the highest-ranking members of the Syria's army, said military analyst Hisham Jaber, a retired brigadier general in the Lebanese military.
Jaber said it was likely Ishaq led a weeks-long operation to push rebels out of Mleiha, a town on Damascus' eastern outskirts.
"This is very important for morale," Jaber said. "The man was extremely senior. He had the highest rank in the military. The number of them — alive or dead — are extremely few."
But retired Lebanese Gen. Amin Hoteit, who also follows the Syrian conflict, said it was unlikely that Ishaq's death would have any long term impact on the Syrian war. He said such leaders always groom a successor.
The UK-based Observatory, an anti-government monitoring group, said that despite initial advances in Mleiha by Assad’s forces, the anti-government forces have recovered ground, retaking several buildings around the central town hall.
While the army remains in control of Damascus, fighters still hold a number of towns and villages on the outskirts, despite a blockade and frequent air strikes and shelling.
The last high-ranking casualty was Hilal al-Assad, a cousin of the president and regional head of the National Defense Force militia, who was killed two months ago in Latakia province.
Al Jazeera and wire services