Issam Zahreddine

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Issam Zahreddine
عصام زهر الدين.jpg
Nickname(s) "Lion of the Republican Guard"[1]
Born 9 September 1961
Tarba, As-Suwayda, Syria
Died 18 October 2017 (age 56)
Hawijat Saqr, Deir ez-Zor
Buried As-Suwayda[2]
Allegiance  Syria
Service/branch Syrian Arab Army
Years of service 1980–2017
Rank Syria-Liwa.jpg Major General
Unit Syrian Republican Guard SSI.svg Republican Guard
Commands held
  • Republican Guard's 104th Brigade[3]
  • Commander of SAA troops in Aleppo (July – October 2013)[4]
  • Commander of Republican Guards in Deir ez-Zor (October 2013 – October 2017)
Battles/wars

Syrian civil war

Issam Jad'aan Zahreddine (Arabic: عصام جدعان زهر الدين‎) (September 1961 – 18 October 2017), also transliterated as Issam Zaher Eldin or Issam Zaher al-Deen, was a Major General of the Syrian Republican Guard[3][7][8] who played a major role in the Syrian Civil War, leading Syrian government forces on several fronts.[9] His most prominent role was the leadership of the surrounded Syrian forces during the over three-year long Siege of Deir ez-Zor. On 18 October 2017, Zahreddine was killed by a land mine explosion during operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Saqr island in Deir ez-Zor.[10]

Background[edit]

Zahreddine was born in the small rural village[10] of Tarba in the As-Suwayda Governorate[11] in 1961.[10] A member of the Druze religious community,[9] he was commissioned as an officer in the Airborne (Special Forces) Armoured units in 1982. Before that he served in the Baath Party's People's Militia (Popular Militia) as a conscript from 1980 to 1982. In 1987, he was inducted into the Republican Guard as an Armoured and Mechanized Units' officer.[12]

Syrian civil war[edit]

Zahreddine commanded the Republican Guard's 104th Brigade in Douma and Harasta alongside Brigadier General Manaf Tlass before the latter's defection.[3] This brigade was led by Bashar al-Assad before he became President, and by Basil Assad until his death in 1994.[13][14] In his position as leader of the 104th Brigade, Zahreddine ordered the systematic beating of arrested protestors in Douma during the civil uprising phase of the Syrian Civil War;[3] for these actions, he became known as the "Druze Beast" among the Syrian opposition.[15][better source needed]

As the Syrian Civil War escalated, Zahreddine became one of the most prominent and high-ranking members of the Druze community in Syria fighting for the government. As result, he has been widely criticized by pro-opposition and anti-war Druze:[15] The leader of the Lebanese Druze, Walid Jumblatt, accused him of "fighting against his own people",[16] and Zahreddine was also singled out by a group of Druze religious leaders meeting in As-Suwayda in February 2013 as an individual deserving of death, in a statement otherwise decrying the use of violence by both sides.[17] Among pro-government Druze in Syria and Israel, however, he was regarded as a "hero" and had many followers.[15][2]

Zahreddine was sent in early 2012 to Homs where the SAA offensive against rebel groups was culminating in the siege and Battle of Baba Amr, in which his troops surrounded the neighbourhood, blocked supply routes and shelled it.[14] Many civilians were trapped, and dozens were killed in the attacks. On 21 February the government intercepted a call by famous war reporter Marie Colvin: "The [SAA] is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians".[18] In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Colvin's family provided evidence that the Syrian government had tracked Colvin from Lebanon, triangulated the call to the Homs Media Center, and confirmed her location with a local informant, and that then, under orders from Maher al-Assad, the Homs units of the Syrian Republican Guard and Special Forces targeted her location, using a method known as bracketing, where multiple rockets were launched to either side, drawing closer with each round, before hitting it directly.[19][20] The lawsuit alleged that Zahreddine planned the artillery attack along with Ali Mamluk, Director of Syria’s National Intelligence Bureau and Rafiq Shahadah, former Director of Military Intelligence.[5][21] French photographer Remi Ochlik was killed and British photographer Paul Conroy, French reporter Edith Bouvier, and Syrian interpreter Wael al-Omar were wounded in the same attack.[20]

Following the start of the Aleppo offensive (October 2013), Zahreddine was originally going to lead an assault to Anadan. However, he was requested for assistance in Deir ez-Zor due to Major General Jameh's death.[22][better source needed] While there, he became known for frequently visiting the front line and interacting with ordinary soldiers.[23] On 27 November 2013, while commanding his forces in al-Rashdiya district, Zahreddine was wounded in the leg by a bullet.[22] Zahreddine and his son Yarob travelled to as-Suwayda in September 2015 in order to attend the funeral of Sheikh Wahid al-Balous, a Druze leader who had been a prominent anti-war activist.[15]

Sometime after 2013, Zahreddine was promoted from Brigadier General to Major General.[citation needed] By 2016, he was leading 7,000 troops in the battle to retake the eastern city of Deir Ezzor from ISIS.[5][24] He led the 104th Airborne Brigade, which formed the core of the city’s defense.[25] According to a pro-government blog, "The mere presence of Issam Zahreddin’s brigade was an important moral [sic] factor for SAA troops. His popularity is due to his personal leadership in combat and constant presence on the front lines."[26]

In 2016, he was pictured posing next to hanging corpses of ISIS fighters that appeared to have been tortured and cut up [5][24][4] or were remains of a suicide bombing.[citation needed] In 2017, Zahreddine was added to a European Union sanctions list for his role in "violent repression against the civilian population, including during the siege of Baba Amr in February 2012."[14][27]

On 5 September 2017, Zahreddine was congratulated by President Bashar Assad for his role at Deir ez-Zor during the over 3-year long siege of the city by ISIS.[28] He used the occasion to thank allies for lifting the siege and tell Syrian refugees to "never return", saying that "even if the state forgives you, we will never forgive nor forget".[4][29][30] In a subsequent audio message, however, Zahreddine claimed that he had meant that only those who had taken up arms against the Syrian Army should not return.[5][31]

Personal life[edit]

Issam's oldest son, Yarob,[15] also fights with the 104th Brigade in Deir ez-Zor.[32]

Death[edit]

On 18 October 2017, Zahreddine was killed when his vehicle hit a land mine in Hawija Saqr near Deir Ezzor as he was conducting an operation against ISIL.[8][33][34][7] His funeral took place in As-Suwayda on 20 October 2017.[2][35]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Prince, S.J. (20 November 2016). "WATCH: Syrian General Tours Row of Corpses of Dead ISIS Militants". Terror Alert. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Israeli Druze mourn death of Syrian regime general, Times of Israel, 27 October 2017
  3. ^ a b c d "By All Means Necessary!" (PDF). Human Rights Watch. December 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Tom O'Connor Top Syrian War General Killed in Explosion outside city he helped free from ISIS, Newsweek 10/18/17
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Josie Ensor Top Syrian general killed by Isil landmine near Deir Ezzor, The Telegraph 18 October 2017
  6. ^ a b Riad Alarian The "Butcher of Deir Ezzor," Issam Zahreddine, Dies 1 Month After Threatening Syrian Refugees, Muftah, 21 October 2017
  7. ^ a b Abramson, Judith. "Senior-level Syrian Army official killed in battle". Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Military commander of Syria's Deir al-Zour operation killed in mine explosion - Xinhua - English.news.cn". news.xinhuanet.com. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  9. ^ a b Gambill, Gary C. (2013), Syrian Druze: Toward Defiant Neutrality, Middle East Forum, retrieved 9 July 2013
  10. ^ a b c Leith Fadel (18 October 2017). "Breaking: Prominent Syrian general Issam Zahreddine killed in Deir Ezzor". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  11. ^ "Syrian security branches and Persons in charge" (PDF). Syrian Network for Human Rights. 9 April 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 December 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  12. ^ "One of Assad's closest generals is killed outside the Syrian city he helped free from ISIS". Newsweek. 2017-10-18. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  13. ^ Malas, Nour (6 July 2012). "Defected Syrian General Heads to Paris as Diplomats Meet". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  14. ^ a b c Ruth Sherlock Anti-ISIS Syrian General Accused Of Killing U.S. Journalist Is Reported To Have Died, NPR, 19 October 2017
  15. ^ a b c d e Leith Fadel (8 September 2015). "Prominent Syrian General Attends the Funeral of the Murdered Anti-War Sheikh in Al-Sweida". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  16. ^ Illeik, Hassan (6 March 2013). "Jumblatt: "I Am With al-Nusra Front Against Assad"". Alakhbar English. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  17. ^ Dick, Marlin (18 February 2013). "Druze preachers in Swaida urge defections". The Daily Star. Retrieved 6 July 2012.
  18. ^ David Remnick Postscript: Marie Colvin, 1956- New Yorkers, 22 February 2012
  19. ^ Dana Priest War reporter Marie Colvin was tracked, targeted and killed by Assad’s forces, family says, Washington Post 9 July 2016
  20. ^ a b Josie Ensor Veteran war reporter Marie Colvin was 'tracked and deliberately targeted' by Assad regime before her killing in Syria, Telegraph 10 JULY 2016
  21. ^ FAMILY OF SLAIN U.S. JOURNALIST MARIE COLVIN SUES ASSAD REGIME, Center for Justice & Accountability, 9 July 2016
  22. ^ a b Maj. General 'Issam Zahreddeen Slightly Wounded Syrian Perspective. 28 November 2013.
  23. ^ Fadel, Leith. High ranking Syrian general barely escapes death in Deir Ezzor. Al-Masdar News. 13 September 2017.
  24. ^ a b Syria army commander 'poses next to dead bodies' Al-Jazeera 21 May 2016
  25. ^ Senior Syria general killed in Deir Ez-Zor, Middle East Monitor, October 19, 2017
  26. ^ "The Stronghold of Deir Ezzor: All What You Need To Know About The Battle Against ISIS In Eastern Syria". 2016-12-01. Retrieved 2018-03-03.
  27. ^ implementing Decision 2013/255/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Syria, 17 July 2017
  28. ^ iIllingworth, Andrew. President al-Assad congratulates three Syrian commanders for Deir Ezzor victory. Al-Masdar News. 5 September 2017.
  29. ^ "The Syrian regime's serial killer of Deir al-Zour threatens the refugees if they return to Syria". Al-Dorar Al-Shamia. 11 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  30. ^ "Assads Top-General droht Flüchtlingen". Der Spiegel (in German). 11 September 2017. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  31. ^ Leith Fadel (12 September 2017). "Syrian general issues clarification statement about refugees: video". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  32. ^ Leith Fadel (9 December 2014). "Syrian Army Downs an ISIS Drone at Deir Ezzor Military Airport". al-Masdar News. Retrieved 13 September 2017.
  33. ^ Ensor, Josie (18 October 2017). "Top Syrian general killed by Isil landmine near Deir Ezzor". Retrieved 20 October 2017 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
  34. ^ News, ABC. "The Latest: White House sees new phase in Syria after Raqqa". Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  35. ^ "Prominent Syrian General Issam Zahreddine laid to rest in Sweida - video". AMN - Al-Masdar News | المصدر نيوز. 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2017-11-18.