Monday, January 22, 2018

Syria says air force commander killed

Syria's state television said Tuesday that insurgents had assassinated an air force commander in Damascus, as news accounts from antigovernment activists reported an intensified aerial bombing campaign against rebel targets, including the first warplane attack inside the Syrian capital since the conflict began 20 months ago.

The developments were reported a day after the expiration of a four-day truce for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha that had been widely and persistently violated. Each side accused the other of subverting the cease-fire, which was negotiated by the special Syria peace envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, Lakhdar Brahimi. He had said he hoped it would form the basis for the beginning of dialogue between President Bashar Assad's loyalists and his armed opponents.

An announcement carried on state TV said the air force commander, Gen. Abdullah Mahmud al-Khalidi, was killed in the Damascus district of Rukn al-Din on Monday by armed terrorist groups, the government's categorical term for its adversaries.

The announcement did not specify how the commander had been killed, but it described him as one of the country's top aviation experts. Agence France-Presse, in a report from Damascus, quoted an unidentified security source as saying the commander had been shot to death while leaving a friend's home.

The news agency said that the Free Syrian Army, the main group of armed insurgents in Syria, had claimed responsibility for the assassination. But other unconfirmed reports from Syria raised the possibility the general had been killed by government agents to prevent him from defecting. Al-Jazeera cited unidentified activists who gave that account.

Reports from opposition activists including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said the official end of the cease-fire on Monday brought a large expansion of aerial bombardments on Tuesday, including a sortie by a fighter jet that dropped four bombs on the Damascus neighborhood of Jobar.

The observatory said it was the first reported instance of a fighter jet attack in Damascus airspace, where the military had previously used helicopter gunships.

The Observatory also said at least 23 people were killed Tuesday, most of them in Syrian government airstrikes in the contested town of Douma, near Damascus. There was no way to corroborate those casualty figures.

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