The leader of a Syrian rebel group with links to al-Qaeda was killed in clashes near the northwestern coastal city of Latakia, state television said.
The report of Abu Muhammad al-Jolani’s death, which didn’t give further details, was denied by other leaders of his group, the al-Nusra Front, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said it spoke to some of them. The Observatory, which has ties with the more secular of Syria’s rebel groups, said other al-Nusra members couldn’t confirm or deny the report of al-Jolani’s death because they hadn’t been able to contact him.
The al-Nusra Front, classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., is among several Islamist groups that have played a growing role in the 2 1/2-year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. The Islamists have frequently clashed with other rebel forces, especially Kurds in the north, as well as fighting against Assad’s army.
U.S. support for the Syrian opposition has been constrained by concerns that military or financial aid may end up in the hands of Islamist militants instead of the Western-backed rebels. Saudi Arabia, the main U.S. ally in the Arab world, recently signaled that it may split with the U.S. by diverting more aid to the Islamists, because they are disorganized and ineffective.
Separately, the Observatory said a car bombing in a town near Damascus today left 40 people dead. The Observatory estimates that Syria’s civil war has killed more than 115,000 people since March 2011.
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