Jamaica Gleaner / MOSCOW (AP):
Russia said yesterday it carried out air strikes in Syria this week that critically wounded the leader of an al-Qaida-linked group and killed 12 other militant commanders.
There was no immediate comment from fellow militants or other Syria monitors on the fate of Abu Mohammed al-Golani, leader of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.
Russia has been waging an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces since 2015, helping them to make major advances against the Islamic State group, al-Qaida-linked insurgents and mainstream rebels.
Syrian troops are currently closing in on the eastern city of Mayadeen, one of the last major IS strongholds in the country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops and allied militiamen have advanced to about 10 kilometres (six miles) north of Mayadeen. The activist-operated Deir Ezzor24 says dozens of rockets and barrel bombs fell on Mayadeen and surrounding villages yesterday.
The Observatory said at least 20 people were killed in air strikes on a village north of Mayadeen, while Deir Ezzor24 said at least 15 were killed. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled Mayadeen and the surrounding areas in the past week.
The Observatory said the government advance has been preceded by a barrage of air strikes, counting over 1,000 since Friday.
Mayadeen has become the main hub for Islamic State militants, including the group’s leaders, as its former strongholds in Raqqa, Deir el-Zour and Mosul have come under attack.
US-backed Syrian forces and the Russia-backed Syrian military are in a race for control of territory in eastern Syria as they both battle the extremist group.
Al-Golani’s Levant Liberation Committee controls the northwestern Idlib province, on the other side of the country. Major General Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, announced the wounding of the militant leader.