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US: Killing of Syrian Rebel Leader Complicates Peace Effort

FILE - Zahran Alloush, head of the Army of Islam Syrian rebel group, speaks during the wedding of a fighter in the group in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern edge of Damascus, Syria, July 21, 2015.

The United States says the killing of a top Syrian rebel leader complicates efforts to bring a cease-fire and political resolution to the country’s nearly five-year conflict.

Zahran Alloush, the head of a group called Jaysh al Islam, died in an airstrike Friday that was claimed by Syrian government forces.

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States has some concerns about Jaysh al Islam’s actions in Syria, but that it participated in a conference of rebel groups, supported a political process and fought against the Islamic State group.

“I think we would agree that it doesn’t send the most constructive message to carry out a strike like that,” Toner said. “And as I said, it complicates those efforts. It is our hope that these strikes don’t reverse any progress that we’ve made.”

He also reiterated U.S. support for U.N. Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura’s push to convene peace talks on January 25.

“We would hope it does not discourage these people from participating in the process, because we need to begin efforts right away to reach an agreement that leads to a genuine political transition,” Toner said.

The U.N. brokered two rounds of peace negotiations between the Syrian government and rebels early last year, but those talks broke apart with little progress.

More than 250,000 people have been killed since the conflict began as peaceful protests in March 2011 and escalated into a multi-sided civil war with Islamic State seizing large areas in the eastern part of the country.

The U.N. says 4.3 million people have fled the country, while 6.6 million more have been displaced within Syria and 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.