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Syria rebel leader killed in suicide blast

Hassan Abboud, head of Ahrar al-Sham, was killed at a meeting called to discuss strategy for fighting the Islamic State

The leader of the Ahrar al-Sham rebel group, one of the largest Islamist factions fighting Syria’s war, was killed on Tuesday along with scores of the group’s fighters in a suicide attack on a high-level meeting in Syria's Idlib province, a spokesman for the group told Al Jazeera.

Hassan Abboud, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi, was killed when a bomb detonated as he met with Ahrar’s leadership council in the village of Ram Hamdan.

Ahrar, which numbers around 20,000 fighters, is part of the powerful Islamic Front alliance formed to counter the Al-Qaeda-inspired Islamic State group and fight the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Six of the group’s leaders were among the victims in Tuesday's attack, along with 50 others, according to an Islamic Front spokesman who goes by the name of Abdulrahman. Other reports put the death toll between 20 and 45.

It is not known who staged Tuesday's attack, though Abdulrahman said his group suspected the Islamic State, which killed another Ahrar leader, Abu Khaled al-Souri, earlier this year.

Sources told Al Jazeera that the meeting included members of other Islamic Front brigades, such as the Abdullah Azzam and al-Iman Brigade, and was called to discuss their strategy for fighting the Islamic State.

Ahrar advocates for a moderate Islamic state and rejects the Islamic State’s radical interpretation of Islamic law.

In an interview with Al Jazeera in December 2013, Abboud said he would continue to fight until Assad fell and dismissed talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the Western-backed opposition group-in-exile, the Syrian National Coalition. Several rounds of peace talks between those parties were fruitless.

"We see Geneva as a tool of manipulation – to derail the Syrian revolution from its goals and objectives,” Abboud said. “Whatever outcome the conference may yield will be binding on the Syrian National Coalition only.

"For us, we will continue to fight for our revolution until we restore our rights," Abboud said.

But the rise of the Islamic State shortly after the Geneva talks has complicated that fight, with Ahrar increasingly pitted against not only the government but other rebel groups, too.

Syria's civil war, now in its fourth year, has killed nearly 200,000 people, according to United Nations estimates.

Michael Pizzi contributed reporting.

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