Russian air raids kill Syrian rebel commander

45 people, including civilians, also killed in attacks on anti-Assad group on Monday

BEIRUT • Russian air strikes in Syria's Latakia province killed a top rebel commander from a group armed by President Bashar al-Assad's foreign enemies, a monitoring group said yesterday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 45 people - both rebel fighters and civilians - were killed in the air strikes on Monday evening in the Jabal Akrad area, which is held by the First Coastal Division rebel group.

The group, which fights under the banner of a loose alliance of factions known as the Free Syrian Army, confirmed the death of its chief of staff Basil Zamo, formerly a captain in the Syrian military.

The First Coastal Division is one of several groups that have received foreign military support under a programme supported by the United States. Their equipment includes US-made anti-tank missiles, the most potent weapon in the rebels' arsenal.

In some cases, the support has included military training by the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr Assad's main foreign foes include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

The commander of another such group, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Brigades, was killed in fighting south of Aleppo on Monday.

These groups, often led by officers who defected from the Syrian army after the uprising against President Assad erupted in 2011, have been widely eclipsed by Islamist groups such as the Nusra Front and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Syrian army, backed by fighters from Iran and Lebanon's Hizbollah, have launched a series of ground offensives against insurgent-held areas of western and north-western Syria since Russia began air strikes in the country on Sept 30.

Russian air strikes on Syria have killed 370 people since they began, two-thirds of them rebels, the Observatory said yesterday.

The monitoring group said 243 fighters had been killed, among them 52 from the ISIS group and 127 civilians. Among the civilians were 36 children and 34 women, according to Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

Moscow began air strikes in Syria last month in cooperation with the government in Damascus and says it is targeting ISIS and other "terrorists".

But Syrian rebels and their backers accuse Russia of targeting moderate and Islamist rebels in a bid to bolster the regime.

Moscow's strikes have hit multiple provinces across the country, including strongholds of ISIS like Raqa province.

But they have focused most heavily on several provinces where Syrian regime forces are leading offensives against an array of opposition forces that do not include ISIS.

In a separate development, the Observatory said 16 Syrian soldiers were killed in battles in the al-Ghab Plains area in the central province of Hama.

State news agency Sana said yesterday that government forces killed 20 rebels in the northern province of Aleppo.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Russian air raids kill Syrian rebel commander'. Print Edition | Subscribe