Top Syrian Army General Killed in Battle

BEIRUT (AP) -

One of Syria’s most powerful military officers was killed in fighting with al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists in an oil-rich eastern province largely controlled by the rebels, Syrian state-run media said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Jameh Jameh was killed in the provincial capital of Deir el-Zour, where he was the head of military intelligence. He was the most senior military officer to be killed in more than a year.

The report did not say when or how Jameh was killed, only that he died “carrying out his mission in defending Syria and its people.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Jameh was killed by a sniper bullet during clashes with rebels, including members of al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front.

Jameh played a major role in Lebanon when Damascus dominated its smaller neighbor. When Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon in 2005, ending a military presence of nearly 30 years, Jameh was in charge of Syrian intelligence in the capital, Beirut.

He was among several top Syrian officers suspected of a role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the slaying.

Four members of the Syrian-backed Hizbullah were charged in 2011 by a U.N.-backed tribunal with plotting the attack that killed Hariri, though none have been arrested.