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Top Syrian rebel leader killed in Damascus air strike

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BEIRUT — A top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus has been killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group’s headquarters, rebel sources and the Syrian army say.

The death of Zahran Alloush, head of Jaysh al Islam, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al Ghouta, the rebels said.

Defence experts said the disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s control over the rest of the area.

Several rebel leaders have been killed since Russia began an aerial campaign on September 30 in support of its ally Mr Assad, although Moscow has insisted that it is concentrating its attacks on Islamic State.

The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes targeted 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.

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 in al-Ghouta that has been the target of a major Syrian assault in the last few weeks.

Jaysh al Islam was one of the main rebel groups that attended a recent Saudi-backed opposition meeting in Riyadh and will be negotiating with Mr Assad’s government in Geneva.

Reuters

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Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa narrowly escapes explosion at party rally

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HARARE — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly escaped injury in an explosion on Saturday which has rocked a stadium where Zimbabwe’s president was addressing a campaign rally, with state media calling it an assassination attempt but saying the president was not hurt.

President Mnangagwa was whisked to a state house in Bulawayo, where he had been speaking ahead of next month’s historic election, the first since longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down.

The explosion occurred as the president, accompanied by other politicians, was walking off the stage at the White City stadium after addressing thousands of supporters in advance of next month’s vote.

Mnangagwa, the 75-year-old leader of ZANU-PF, was not hurt and taken to safety, officials said. However, witnesses said several people were injured, including the Vice-President.

Several others including number security personnel, the wife of fellow Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the environment minister and the deputy speaker of parliament also suffered wounds.

Agencies

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