Gunmen in Syria kill commander of Islamic rebel group

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BEIRUT (AP) — Gunmen in Syria have shot and killed the commander of an ultraconservative rebel group in the central Homs province, activists and an official from the group said.

Abu Rateb al-Homsy was killed Tuesday, according to Labib al-Nahhas, a member of the Ahrar al-Sham group who mourned the passing of his comrade on Twitter.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said al-Homsy was shot while in a car in the village of Farhaniyeh with his wife, who was wounded.

Several local commanders of insurgent groups have been killed in recent weeks in Homs. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings.

Ahrar al-Sham is one of the most powerful Syrian rebel groups and is active in different parts of the country.

On Wednesday, several mortar rounds struck residential neighborhoods in the capital, Damascus, killing at least eight people and wounding at least two dozen others.

Syrian state media said "terrorists" from the Army of Islam rebel group fired the shells from the suburb of Eastern Ghouta, adding that the death toll was likely to rise, given the high number of critically wounded people.

The Observatory, an opposition activist group tracking violence inside the country, reported the same death toll and said there were about 30 wounded, some in life-threatening danger.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's government refers to all armed rebels as terrorists. Some rebels fire indiscriminately into neighborhoods they consider to be filled with Assad supporters, while the Syrian army often bombs opposition-held neighborhoods with crude, inaccurate barrel bombs that cause many civilian casualties.

Besides fighting Assad, the Army of Islam is also battling the Islamic State extremist group, considered a pariah even by many ultraconservative fighters in Syria's nearly five-year civil war. Although Washington has steered clear of the Army of Islam, it has praised it for supporting a U.S.-Russian mediation effort with Assad, and opposing the Islamic State.

The Syrian government considers the Army of Islam, whose commander Zahran Alloush was killed in an airstrike last month, to be "terrorists" with whom it will not negotiate.

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