BEIRUT – Syrian Air Force jets bombarded the eastern city of Deir al-Zor today 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 yesterday by snipers in the midst of a battle with rebels, including forces linked to al-Qaeda, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Jama’a’s 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 flown back for burial today in his home village of Zama in the mountains overlooking the Mediterranean Sea –– the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect.
Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war began as a peaceful protest movement, but has degenerated into a brutal civil war with sectarian dimensions. Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority has largely joined the uprising against four decades of Assad family rule. Minority sects such as the Alawites, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, have largely stood behind the president.
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 February 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 Sunni militants across the border into Iraq where insurgents were fighting United States 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”. (Reuters)