Syrian rebel leader reportedly killed in clashes

Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, sits for an interview with journalist Ghassan bin Jeddo on Lebanon's Mayadeen television in Damascus on Monday.
(Syrian Arab News Agency )

BEIRUT -- A prominent Syrian rebel field commander was killed Monday in clashes with military forces near the southern city of Dara, according to opposition and government accounts.
One of the earliest and highest-ranking defectors in the south and a founding member of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, Lt. Col. Yasser Abboud, 46, was killed by rocket fire while leading a “reconnaissance mission to take out a sniper” near the town of Tafas, Abu Majd Zoubi, speaking for the rebel Yarmouk Brigades in Dara, said via telephone from near the Jordanian-Syrian border.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency also confirmed the death, reporting that troops had killed Abboud “and a large number of terrorists from Al Nusra Front.” The Syrian government commonly refers to rebels as terrorists.

Although Abboud acknowledged the effective battlefield role of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, he remained adamant that Syrian society “would not accept extremism.”

When asked about the future of the Islamists in Syria in an Al Jazeera interview in April, he replied: “If they wish to assimilate into Syrian society in its simple and open and moderate nature, then we welcome them as brothers. But if in the future they wish to impose their opinions by force then this will not be. Syria does not bear extremism and its people are an open moderate one.”


As head of the rebel command center in southern Syria, Abboud, whose nom de guerre was Abu Ammar, won respect among rebel fighters because he remained engaged in battle within Syrian territory, unlike many other high-level defectors who sought safety in Jordan, Turkey or elsewhere.

“Abu Ammar was a true leader, and we will miss him in the southern Syrian front,” Bashar Zoubi, the Free Syrian Army commander in the southern Syrian front, said via telephone. “He was present and fought in every battle. This is what made him different and unique.”

The slain commander was also a harsh critic of the main, Western-backed opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition. In a video uploaded last month to YouTube, he berated members of the political opposition for what he called their failure to provide aid to front-line fighters.

“You who are outside .... Who of you called and asked ... what do you need? No one,” he says on the video.

Known as the birthplace of the Syrian uprising, Dara, a scant 60 miles from Damascus along the border with Jordan, is both a symbolic and strategic province for the armed opposition. Jordan has repeatedly denied accusations that it is assisting the rebels in any way, though Syrian President Bashar Assad has accused the pro-U.S. kingdom of funneling arms and fighters to the opposition.

“Jordan is a corridor that had stayed away from” supporting the rebels, Assad told the Lebanese station Al Mayadeen in an interview Monday. “But in the last year it has entered into the fray in a more active fashion.”


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Bulos is a special correspondent.