Syria general blamed for 2012 journalist deaths dies in blast

Beirut (AFP) –


A Syrian general accused over the 2012 deaths of prominent US journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik has been killed by an explosion in the east of the war-torn country.

Issam Zahreddine's death in the city of Deir Ezzor, where Russian-backed regime forces are battling the Islamic State group, was reported by pro-regime media in Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said he was killed Wednesday when an explosive device went off in Deir Ezzor city, most of which is now under the control of regime forces.

With his handlebar moustache and bushy grey beard, the 56-year-old general was a recognisable figure in Syria and had a cult following among diehard supporters of the regime.

Involved in the early days of the repression of a 2011 revolt against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, he led the battle that expelled rebels from Syria's third city of Homs five years ago.

In a lawsuit filed in the US in 2016, Colvin's family alleged that her death was the result of shelling of the media centre where she and Ochlik were, in a plan "formulated at the highest levels of the Syrian government".

"The plan was executed by Syrian military forces under the command of Major General Issam Zahreddine of the Syrian Republican Guard," it alleged.

Zahreddine had recently commanded the 7,000 forces that were besieged by IS in Deir Ezzor until more government troops were sent in and broke the jihadists' stranglehold on the city.

Originally from the southern province of Suweida, Zahreddine was one of the highest-ranking army officers from Syria's Druze minority.