Official: Head of Syrian air defense killed

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Photo - This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian young inspecting the rubble of houses that were destroyed by airstrikes from the Syrian government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Syrian rebels captured a village in northwestern Syria on Sunday, killing more than a dozen government troops in heavy clashes and prompting the military to carry out airstrikes to try to dislodge the fighters, activists said. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center)
This photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian young inspecting the rubble of houses that were destroyed by airstrikes from the Syrian government forces in Aleppo, Syria, Sunday, May 18, 2014. Syrian rebels captured a village in northwestern Syria on Sunday, killing more than a dozen government troops in heavy clashes and prompting the military to carry out airstrikes to try to dislodge the fighters, activists said. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center)
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DAMASCUS (AP) — The head of Syria's air defenses was killed in clashes near the capital, Damascus, a government official and activists said Sunday, one of a few high-ranking military officers to be killed in the country's 3-year-old civil war.

Lt. Gen. Hussein Ishaq died Saturday as rebels attacked a Syrian air defense base near the town of Mleiha, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief journalists about Ishaq's death.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed Ishaq's death. It said he died from wounds he suffered during Saturday's fighting.

The Observatory, which bases its reports on a network of activists on the ground, said Ishaq was killed in clashes with fighters from the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, and other Islamic rebel groups.

Heavy fighting has happened around Mleiha in recent weeks. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have conducted a heavy bombing campaign around the area, which rebels see as strategically important due to its proximity to the capital.

Ishaq is one of a few high-ranking military officers to be killed in the Syrian war. It's unclear if his death will have any wider strategic or military impact on the war itself, however.

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Associated Press writers Ryan Lucas and Diaa Hadid in Beirut contributed to this report.

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