Syria's sacked political spy chief dead: Family

BEIRUT (AFP) - Syria's former political intelligence chief Rustom Ghazaleh has died after being fired for a quarrel with another regime official in which he was beaten up, a source close to his family said Friday.

Ghazaleh, a former stalwart of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, had been in hospital since the dispute with another intelligence official early in March.

"He died at 7am today (Friday) in a Damascus hospital and will be buried tomorrow in the capital," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At the beginning of March, Assad fired both Ghazaleh and General Rafiq Shehadeh, head of military intelligence, after they quarrelled.

The two men had a violent argument over Ghazaleh's involvement in the southern front of the conflict in Syria, a high-ranking security source told AFP at the time.

Ghazaleh was replaced by his former deputy, Nazih Hassoun, with Mohamed Mahalla taking over as military intelligence chief, the source said.

Ghazaleh had reportedly been seeking greater involvement in the battle against rebels in the southern province of Daraa, where he was born.

But Shehadeh "was categorically opposed to him taking part in the battle" in the area by regime forces backed by Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah movement, the source said.

"A violent disagreement erupted and Shehadeh's men beat up Ghazaleh badly," the source said.

Ghazaleh was briefly hospitalised after the incident but was readmitted later on suffering complications related to hypertension.

Ghazaleh and Shehadeh both took their posts in July 2012, after being promoted following a bombing that killed four top regime figures.

Shehadeh was previously head of military intelligence in central Homs province, an early bastion of the opposition to Assad's regime.

Ghazaleh was previously head of military security in Damascus.

In 2002, Ghazaleh was named head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, where he was accused of intervening extensively in the country's political affairs.

He was also frequently named by witnesses as a suspect in the planning of the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former premier Rafiq Hariri, though he was not indicted by the international tribunal prosecuting the murder.

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