One of the Syrian army’s most prominent leaders, Major General Issam Zahreddine, has been killed in the city of Deir Ez-Zor after his vehicle struck a landmine believed to have been planted by Daesh fighters, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
The 56-year-old commander of the 104th Airborne Brigade of the elite Syrian Republican Guard had been fighting Daesh militants in the country’s eastern Deir Ez-Zor province since 2014. His death, which comes after a series of successes for the Syrian government, is being mourned by regime supporters.
Zahreddine was considered one of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s most trusted generals and key instigator of violence against opposition fighters and activists. In July, the European Union added the general to a list of sanctioned individuals, accusing him of “violent repression” against civilians in the early days of the conflict.
A report by Human Rights Watch in 2011 detailed how Zahreddine ordered the beatings of political protestors in the city of Douma, and personally carried an electric baton with which to torture prisoners.
Zahreddine gained further distinction amongst Syrian regime fighters when he was tasked with leading military operations in the city of Homs in 2012. Some 3,000 people were trapped in the city during weeks of fighting, and hundreds were killed before the area was taken back from opposition groups by the Syrian army.
The general was also named in a lawsuit by the family of the late American war correspondent Marie Colvin, who was killed in an artillery attack in Homs in February 2012, after they learnt that Zahreddine had reportedly ordered the attack on her makeshift media centre. After intercepting a call in which Colvin said, “The [Syrian army] is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians”, the army fired directly at the centre. Zahreddine received a commendation when it was confirmed Colvin had been killed; the regime denies that the American was targeted.
Zahreddine has appeared in many photographs with severely mutilated and tortured bodies; causing controversy again last year when he was pictured posing next to hanging corpses which appeared to have been cut into pieces.
Last month, during an interview with Syrian news broadcaster Alikbaria Syria, the general warned refugees fleeing the conflict not to return to the country after the war was over.
“If the government forgives you, I swear we will not forget or forgive,” he told reporters. “If you know what is good for you, none of you will return.”
Several top Syrian, Russian and Iranian commanders have been killed in recent months in fighting against Daesh around Deir Ez-Zor. The group has lost much of its territory in Syria, being forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.