DAMASCUS: A charismatic Islamist rebel leader from Syria has died of wounds suffered in a regime air strike as a government delegation held talks in Moscow on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) on elusive peace talks.
Syrian rebels and activists reported the death of Abdel Qader Saleh, chief of the rebel Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade, after an air raid in the Aleppo area last week.
His death is a blow to Islamist rebels, particularly in the Aleppo region, where Saleh came from and fought and where the regime has made a string of recent advances.
Liwa al-Tawhid announced the 33-year-old’s death on its official Facebook page in news confirmed by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Abdel Qader Saleh, known as Hajji Marea, died of wounds he sustained last Thursday when warplanes targeted the Liwa al-Tawhid leadership,” an Observatory statement said.
“He was taken to Turkey after being wounded, and died in a hospital there before being brought back to Syria for burial,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
The strike also killed Liwa al-Tawhid intelligence chief Yussef al-Abbas, known as Abu al-Tayyeb.
Liwa al-Tawhid, which is backed in part by Qatar, has some 8,000 fighters and is among a number of Islamist units that have rejected the mainstream opposition National Coalition.
However, Saleh was a most respected rebel commander with ties across the opposition seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad, and his death was widely mourned.
On the political front, Syrian regime envoys held closed-door consultations in Moscow with Russian officials on efforts to organize a much-delayed peace conference on the bloody conflict.
The Russian foreign ministry did not comment on the outcome of Monday’s meeting with Assad’s envoys, and the Syrian team left the building without speaking to the press.
But a diplomatic source in Moscow said the Damascus delegation would continue its discussions on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Meanwhile, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped to convene the so-called Geneva II peace conference in “mid-December.”
“I am not able to announce at this time any date. Our target is mid-December,” Ban told reporters during a visit to Lithuania.
He said UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will try to set the date in a meeting with Russian and US representatives on November 25.
The UN has been trying for months to convene talks between the regime and the opposition to try to end the 32-month war, which has reportedly killed more than 120,000 people and displaced millions.