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Syrian Rebel Commander Among Dozens Killed in Russian Airstrikes

At least 45 people are said to have been killed in the latest Russian bombings, including civilians. The Free Syrian Army has confirmed the death of its chief of staff, Basil Zamo.
A Russian SU-24M bomber taking off from the Latakia airbase. Photo via Russian Defense Ministry

Russian air strikes in Syria's northwestern Latakia province killed dozens of people including a top rebel commander from a group armed by President Bashar al-Assad's foreign enemies, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said 45 people — both rebel fighters and civilians — were killed in the air strikes on Monday evening in the Jabal Akrad area, which is held by the First Coastal Division rebel group.

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The group, which fights under the banner of a loose alliance of factions known as the "Free Syrian Army", confirmed the death of its chief of staff, Basil Zamo, formerly a captain in the Syrian military.

Russia built an airbase in Latakia in August and September, and started airstrikes on September 30 with the stated aim of targeting the so-called Islamic State.

However the SOHR claims the bombings actually target rebels fighting Assad and have also have killed more than 100 civilians so far. Human Rights Watch said earlier this month Russia should be investigated for possible war crimes.

Related: Why the Hell Did Russia Intervene in Syria?

The First Coastal Division is one of several groups that have received foreign military support under a programme supported by the United States, including US-made anti-tank missiles, the most potent weapon in the rebels' arsenal.

In some cases the support has included military training by the Central Intelligence Agency. Assad's main foreign foes include Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

Rebels told Reuters on Monday they had received a new shipment of US-made anti-tank missiles from states that oppose President Bashar al-Assad since a major government offensive began there on Friday — but that the supplies were not enough for the scale of the assault.

The commander of another such group, the Nour al Din al-Zinki Brigades, was killed in fighting south of Aleppo on Monday.

These groups, often led by officers who defected from the Syrian army after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted in 2011, have been widely eclipsed by jihadist groups such as the Nusra Front and Islamic State.

The Syrian army backed by fighters from Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah have launched a series of ground offensives against insurgent-held areas of western and northwestern Syria since Russia began air strikes in the country on September 30.

Related: Russia is Bombing a Lot of Familiar Faces in Syria