Beirut: The Islamic State group says the son of its top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed fighting Syrian government forces.
The announcement of the death of the al-Baghdadi's young son appeared on the group's social media accounts on Tuesday. It included a picture of a young boy carrying a rifle and identified him as Huthaifa al-Badri.
The statement, dated July, said he was an elite fighter, known as an "inghimasi," who was killed while fighting Syrian and Russian troops at a power station in the central Homs province. It did not specify when he was killed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, said the most recent Islamic State operations in the area were in the first two weeks of June. Al-Baghdadi has been reported killed or wounded on a number of occasions but is widely believed to still be alive. Little is known about al-Baghdadi's family, but a woman and a child who were said to be his wife and daughter were detained in Lebanon in 2014.
Islamic State has been driven from nearly all the territory it once controlled in Syria and Iraq, though it still maintains a presence in the Syrian desert and remote areas along the Syria-Iraq border. In other developments, the Observatory said late Tuesday that one of the group's last pockets in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour came under intense shelling from the US-led coalition. At least 12 militants are believed to have been killed in Hajin, the group said.
Separately, the Observatory said at least 11 displaced Syrians fleeing the fighting in southwestern Syria were killed when they stepped on a land mine. The two-week long offensive in Daraa province has so far displaced up to 330,000 people, including some 60,000 that have fled toward the sealed border with Jordan, the UN said Tuesday.
"The situation of internally displaced people at the Jordanian border is precarious, aggravated by dusty desert winds and high temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius," UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Tuesday. He said at least 12 children, two women, and one elderly man died in areas close to the Jordanian border due to scorpion bites, dehydration and water-borne diseases. The top UN humanitarian official in Jordan, Anders Pedersen, said Wednesday that delays in the humanitarian response could lead to "catastrophic results," warning that the fighting threatens to displace even more people.
Jordan, which is already hosting at least 660,000 Syrian refugees, has resisted pressure to open the border, saying it cannot take in any more. The offensive in southwestern Syria has shattered a yearlong truce brokered by Russia, the US and Jordan. It has also alarmed Israel, which occupies the nearby Golan Heights and has warned against any Iranian military presence on its doorstep.
Iran has sent military advisers to Syria, and Iran-backed militias fight alongside President Bashar Assad's forces. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who held talks with his Jordanian counterpart on Wednesday, said it would be "absolutely unrealistic" to expect Iran to withdraw from Syria. He said regional powers should discuss mutual complaints and negotiate a compromise.
The Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which supports Assad's government, meanwhile broadcast images of a large arsenal and armored vehicles it said the Syrian forces have seized from rebel fighters in the southwest. The network said the weapons included Israeli and US-made arms and communication devices.
The Observatory said the last round of talks with Russian mediators to reach a truce in Daraa have faltered, threatening a relative calm that prevailed for days.
The talks collapsed on Wednesday because Russia wanted the Syrian rebels to hand in their heavy weapons in a surrender deal that would restore government control over Daraa, the Observatory said. The opposition had also demanded safe passage to opposition-held northern Syria, a request denied by Russia, according to other activists.