Russian air strikes 'critically injured al Qaida leader in Syria'
Russian officials said air strikes their forces carried out in Syria this week have critically wounded the leader of an al Qaida-linked group and killed 12 other militant commanders.
There was no immediate comment from fellow militants or other Syria monitors on the fate of Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the leader of the al Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.
Russia has been waging an air campaign in support of Syrian president Bashar Assad's forces since 2015, helping them to make major advances against the Islamic State group (IS), al Qaida-linked insurgents and mainstream rebels.
Syrian troops are currently closing in on the eastern city of Mayadeen, one of the last major IS strongholds in the country.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian troops and allied militiamen have advanced to about six miles north of Mayadeen.
The activist-operated Deir Ezzor24 said dozens of rockets and barrel bombs fell on Mayadeen and surrounding villages on Wednesday.
The Observatory said at least 20 people were killed in air strikes on a village north of Mayadeen, while Deir Ezzor24 said at least 15 were killed.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled Mayadeen and the surrounding areas in the past week.
The Observatory said the government advance has been preceded by a barrage of air strikes, counting more than 1,000 since Friday.
Mayadeen has become the main hub for IS militants, including the group's leaders, as its former strongholds in Raqqa, Deir el-Zour and Mosul have come under attack.
US-backed Syrian forces and the Russia-backed Syrian military are in a race for control of territory in eastern Syria as they both battle the extremist group.
Al-Golani's Levant Liberation Committee controls the north-western Idlib province, on the other side of the country.
Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, the Russian defence ministry spokesman, announced the wounding of the militant leader.
As with other top insurgent leaders, al-Golani's death has been falsely reported in the past.
Maj Gen Konashenkov said Russia carried out the air strikes at an undisclosed location in Syria on Tuesday after receiving intelligence about an upcoming high-level meeting of the group's leaders.
He said 50 other militants who were securing the gathering were also killed.
Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Observatory, said he had no information about al-Golani.
But the Observatory did report that a former air base now controlled by the Levant Liberation Committee in Idlib was struck by 23 air strikes on Tuesday.
The Observatory said no ambulances were allowed into the area after the attacks.
Moscow blamed the al Qaida-linked group for an attack on Russian military police near Idlib last month.
Three Russian troops were wounded after the militants encircled 29 Russian military officers for several hours during an insurgent offensive. The Russian troops repelled the attack with the help of local tribes.
Idlib has come under intense aerial attack since then.