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Al-Qaida-linked gunmen kill Syria rebel chief

BEIRUT -- Al-Qaida-linked gunmen killed a rebel commander in northwestern Syria, an activist group and an opposition spokeswoman said yesterday, in a sign of increased tensions and infighting among groups battling the Damascus regime.

The shooting came as several mortar shells hit the central Amara neighborhood in the capital Damascus, killing at least six people and wounding dozens, according to the SANA state news agency. It reported that shells fell on the residential area and that at least 40 people were wounded and taken to hospitals.

In the past months, Damascus has been targeted by mortar attacks that have left scores dead or wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant -- a reportedly merged group made up of al-Qaida's branches in Iraq and Syria -- were behind the shooting of the Free Syrian Army commander, Kamal Hamami. The observatory said gunmen shot Hamami dead late Thursday after militants tried to remove a checkpoint he set up on the Jabal al-Turkoman mountain in the coastal province of Latakia. It said two of his men were seriously wounded in the shooting.

A spokeswoman for the Syrian National Coalition, Sarah Karkour, said the Free Syrian Army has confirmed Hamami's death at the "hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant." She did not elaborate.

The Western-backed main coalition is a political wing of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella rebel group.

Hamami's killing would underline a deepening power struggle between moderate and extremist groups fighting in Syrian civil war.

The killing took place as Syria's main opposition bloc complained that some U.S. lawmakers are obstructing efforts to step up support for the rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad's government.

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