x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Free Syrian Army commander 'wounded' in bomb blast

Syria crisis: Some say Riyad Al Assaad was killed in a blast in eastern Syria as the opposition say they will take the vacant seat at the Arab League, a day ahead of a leaders' summit in Qatar.

BEIRUT // Colnel Riyad Al Assaad, a commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, was wounded in an overnight blast that hit his car in eastern Syria, a Human Rights watchdog confirmed today as the opposition said they will take the vacant seat at the Arab League.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the blast targeted Col Al Assaad during a visit to the town of Mayadeen in eastern Syria.

The Observatory cited conflicting reports on Mr Al Assaad's fate, with some saying he had been killed and others saying he lost a leg. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

"An explosive device exploded last night near the car carrying Free Syrian Army commander Riyad Al Assaad, who was conducting a tour of the town of Mayadeen in Deir Ezzor province," the Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Mr Rahman had no information on Mr Assaad's wounds, but a relative of the commander, speaking to AFP, said he had been transferred to Turkey for treatment after the blast.

Mr Assaad was one of the first officers to defect from the Syrian state military to the rebel forces, joining their ranks in 2011, not long after the uprising began.

He served as commander of the rebel forces but has seen his official role diminished by the creation of a rebel military command headed by Brigadier General Salim Idriss.

Mr Al Assaad has remained a prominent figure though, regularly appearing with rebel fighters on the ground.

Meanwhile, a high-ranking Arab League official, on the condition of anonymity, said the Syrian opposition will take the vacant seat at the Arab League table for a leaders' summit in Doha tomorrow.

The opposition National Coalition hailed the decision as "a major step for the Syrian revolution on the road to liberation from tyranny and oppression," and announced it would send interim prime minister Ghassan Hitto to the summit. There had been debate over whether or not the opposition would represent Syria at the summit especially after Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz Al Khatib resigned his post yesterday.

The League announced on November 12, 2011 that it will suspend Syria after its regime failed to implement an Arab deal to end violence against protesters. The move came after the regime of President Bashar Al Assad launched a bloody crackdown on dissent which has since morphed into a civil war in which more than 70,000 people have so far died, according to UN figures.

Yesterday, 165 people were killed in violence throughout Syria, according to a toll from the Syrian Observatory.