SYRIA CONFLICT NUSRA FRONT AL JULANI.jpg
A handout picture made available by Orient News TV on 29 July 2016 showing Leader of Nusra Front Abu Mohammad al-Julani (C) reading the announcement of the creation of Fateh al-Sham (Levantine Conquest Front), with al-Shura council member in Nusra Front Abu Abdullah al-Shami (R), and one of the most prominent Jihadi figures Abu al-Faraj al-Masry (L), at an undisclosed location, Syria, 28 July 2016.
Photograph: EPA/ORIENT NEWS TV / HANDOUT

A top commander for a key Syrian hardline jihadist group has been killed in an airstrike in northern Syria, a monitoring group reported on Friday.

Abu Hajar al-Homsi, a senior commander in former al-Qaeada affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, was killed in an overnight air raid in the countryside near the divided city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Pro-jihadist accounts on Twitter and Telegram channels mourned al-Homsi's death, calling him the "hero of martyrs."

Al-Homsi, who went by the jihadist nom de guerre Abu Omar Saraqeb, is believed to have led many battles for his militant group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, mainly in Idlib in north-western Syria.

"Warplanes, which we cannot identify, hit with missiles the place where an important meeting was being held for the group, killing Abu Hajar and [another commander by the name of] Abu Muslim al-Shami," observatory head Rami Abdel-Rahman said.  

"This is a big blow for Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, especially that al-Homsi died with other key commanders of the group," Abdel-Rahman added.

Charles Lister, an expert on jihadist groups, wrote on Twitter that al-Homsi was widely seen as "an Islamist unifier."

The airstrike, allegedly conducted by a US drone, targeted a meeting that had been called to plan a new opposition counter-offensive to break a fresh siege by government forces on rebel-held eastern Aleppo, according to Lister.

A source close to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham said the meeting was taking place in the village of Kfar Naha in the western countryside of Aleppo.

The source added that the raid by the US-led air alliance targeted the gathering an hour after its start.

In July, al-Nusra Front announced its split from al-Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

The split is believed to have been prompted by intensified military campaigns launched separately by the United States and Russia against militant groups in Syria, including al-Nusra Front and its rival, Islamic State.

Al-Nusra emerged in Syria in early 2012, just months after the start of an anti-government uprising that soon descended into civil war.

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