World Bulletin / News Desk
Syrian air force jets bombarded the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Friday after heavy overnight clashes and the killing of one of President Bashar al-Assad's top military intelligence officers, activists said.
General Jama'a Jama'a was shot dead on Thursday by snipers in the midst of a battle with rebels.
His death, celebrated by rebels and opposition activists, marked a significant setback for Assad's bid to retain a hold over the city, capital of the eastern oil-producing province.
A death notice published on Facebook said Jama'a's body was being flown back for burial on Friday in his home village of Zama in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Jama'a, 59, had served as Syria's top military intelligence officer in Lebanon until Damascus withdrew its forces from its smaller neighbour under intense international pressure in 2005.
The withdrawal followed the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, a killing widely blamed at the time on Syria, and for which Jama'a himself was investigated, the Observatory said.
Jama'a was then appointed chief of military intelligence in Deir al-Zor, a prominent and sensitive position because of the flow of armed groups across the border into Iraq where insurgents were fighting U.S. and Iraqi Shi'ite forces.
In August 2011, five months after protests first erupted against Assad, the European Union imposed sanctions on Jama'a for his role in "repression and violence against the civilian population".
Activists say dozens of rebels and pro-Assad forces have been killed this week in heavy fighting around Deir al-Zor.
The Observatory reported clashes overnight in several districts of the city overnight and said rebels from the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front executed 10 soldiers they captured in the Rashidiyah district, where Jama'a was killed on Thursday.
While rebels had made progress and launched an attack on the nearby military airport, they were unlikely to achieve a speedy victory in the strategic oil region which borders Iraq, the Observatory's Rami Abdulrahman said.
Although much of the oil-producing province of Deir al-Zor is under rebel control, some tribes remain loyal to Assad and control of the city itself is shared between rebels and loyalists, he said.Last Mod: 18 Ekim 2013, 15:23