Zahran Allouch
Zahran Alloush (Centre), commander of Army of Islam (Jaysh al Islam) Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

A Saudi-backed rebel group in Syria has appointed Zahran Allouch's successor following his death in an air strike that targeted the group's headquarters in the Damascus suburb of Otaya. The Army of Islam (Jaysh al Islam) has made one of its field commanders, Essam al-Buwaydhani, also known as Abu Hammam, the leader of the rebel group.

The Syrian government has claimed that it killed Allouch and a number of Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman commanders in an air strike. However, it has been alleged that the air strikes were carried out by Russian jets.

The Army of Islam, in a video, on 24 December, warned that the killing of Allouch "will only increase our fight" against President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State (Isis). "We are moving forth on the path, and we do not change or alter," the unidentified spokesperson of the rebel group said in the video.

After its ally Russia entered the Syrian conflict following the Paris attacks, Assad's army has intensified its offensive in several parts of Syria against rebel groups and IS. Russia, however, has been accused of intentionally carrying out bombing raids on rebel groups. Russia has denied the allegations.

Allouch, who was in his mid-40s, had formed the Army of Islam after he was released from prison following the uprising against Assad that began in March, 2011. Since then, the rebel group, which some critics say operates and uses tactics similar to IS, has amassed thousands of fighters, who are operating in the eastern Damascus suburbs of Eastern Ghouta and Douma.

Allouch was said to be one of the most powerful rebel leaders in Syria. His death comes a month before peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel factions are to begin in Geneva.