The powerful Syrian rebel group Jaysh al Islam has named the successor to its chief Zahran Alloush, killed in an air strike east of Damascus on Friday (December 25).
Abu Hammam al Buwaidani will now lead the group, which confirmed Alloush was killed during a meeting of rebel commanders east of Damascus. The Syrian government says it was responsible for the attack, but rebel sources say it was carried out by Russian warplanes.
The death of Alloush is a major blow for the powerful Saudi-backed group, whose name means “Army of Islam” but is ideologically at odds with the jihadist group calling itself Islamic State, or ISIL.
Jaysh al Islam promotes a more moderate brand of Islam and controls much of the eastern suburb of Damascus known as al Ghouta.
Defence experts say Alloush’s killing, combined with the disarray among the rebel forces, could strengthen Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s control over the rest of the area. It could also derail budding peace talks.
Shortly after Alloush’s death was confirmed, a UN-brokered deal to give safe passage to 2,000 ISIL fighters and their families out of Damascus was suspended.
The convoy had been due to evacuate some 4,000 people from three southern districts of Damascus and pass through territory Alloush controlled to reach Raqqa, ISIL’s stronghold in northern Syria.
Evacuation of Syrian Islamic State fighters from Damascus delayed— Mike Walker (@New_Narrative) December 26, 2015