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US airstrike kills rebel commander in Syria

September 9, 2016 at 4:00 pm

A senior military commander of the Syrian Jabhat Fath Al-Sham (JFS) group, formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, was killed in a US airstrike that targeted a high-level militant meeting in Aleppo yesterday, opposition sources said.

Abu Omar Saraqeb, who went by the nom de guerre of Abu Hajer Al-Homsi, was meeting with a group of other prominent JFS commanders when he was killed. Saraqeb was one of JFS’ most senior military and field commanders.

Although details were vague as to where the meeting was being held, Reuters cited opposition sources as stating that the strike targeted the village of Kafr Naha, which is approximately eight kilometres southwest of Aleppo.

Abu Omar Saraqeb was also known as Abu Hajer Al-Homsi
Saraqeb fought against US occupation forces in Iraq
Saraqeb was a founding member of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front
Al-Nusra Front recently severed ties with Al-Qaeda and changed its name

The US coalition has been conducting airstrikes against Daesh and JFS sites since September 2014, but yesterday’s targeted killing of Saraqeb marks the first time that JFS figures have been targeted since they changed their name and severed ties with Al-Qaeda last July.

Opposition criticises airstrike

Saraqeb’s death has drawn the ire of several armed Syrian opposition groups, including the Abu Amara Battalions, who are closely connected with the Ahrar Al-Sham coalition.

Al Jazeera reported that Muhanna Abu Bakir, the commander of the Abu Amara Battalions, declared that the US may have “opened the doors of woe upon itself” after Saraqeb’s killing, whilst praising the deceased commander’s military accomplishments. This sentiment was echoed by other opposition factions.

Saraqeb’s popularity across the opposition is largely due to his operational prowess. Apart from helping to clear Idlib of regime forces last year, he was also one of the main commanders behind the successful bid to break the Syrian regime’s siege on Aleppo last month.

According to a source close to the opposition in Syria, who asked to remain anonymous for their safety, many opposition factions believe that Saraqeb’s death means that the US has not bought into JFS’ declarations that it has distanced itself from Al-Qaeda.

“The Americans aren’t stupid, and know the Al-Nusra Front [JFS] still believe in the same ideology as Al-Qaeda even if they are now independent in political and military thought and action,” the Syrian source told MEMO.

“Ayman Al-Zawahiri himself said that he agreed for the Al-Nusra Front to rebrand and distance itself from [Al-Qaeda], so it is obvious the US will continue to strike them,” the source added, further explaining that both Russia and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad would be pleased with the lack of change in the US’ rules of engagement.

JFS have long been recognised as one of the most efficient forces fighting against the continued rule of Al-Assad. They formed soon after the Syrian revolution started in 2011 and are under the leadership of Abu Omar Al-Jolani, who fought with Al-Qaeda against US troops after Iraq was invaded in 2003.