A powerful Syrian rebel group has confirmed in a video statement that its leader has been killed.
Zahran Alloush, the top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, was killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group's headquarters, rebel sources and the Syrian army said on Friday (December 25).
"We want to send to our nation the news of the martyrdom of the leader of Jaysh Al Islam, the good sheikh, Abu Abdullah Mohammad Zahran Bin Abdullah Alloush, at one of Ghouta eastern fronts," an unidentified spokesman for the group, Jaysh al Islam, said in the video.
The death of Alloush, age 44, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al Ghouta.
Defence experts say disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's control over the rest of the area.
For more on this story, scroll through the gallery below:
Several rebel leaders have been killed since Russia began an aerial campaign on Sept. 30 in support of its ally Assad, although Moscow has insisted that it is concentrating its attacks on Islamic State.
The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes fired at least 10 missiles at a secret headquarters of the group, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and has about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to Western intelligence.
The Syrian army said Alloush was killed as the result of intelligence on the ground. Rebels blamed Russian sophisticated spying planes which they say rarely leave their skies.
The rebel spokesman said in the video the group had chosen one of their top military commanders, Abu Hammam al Buwaidani, as their new head.
Jaysh al Islam has effectively been running the administration of the Eastern Ghouta area since 2013, when the group was formed from an amalgamation of scores of rebel brigades.
The rebels said Alloush was killed while holding a meeting with other rebel leaders in the Marj area of al-Ghouta, which has been the target of a major Syrian assault in the last few weeks.