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Russia claims 'Islamic State' group leaders killed in Syria airstrike

Four key leaders of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) have been killed in the airstrike on in eastern Syria, according to Russia defense ministry. Heavy clashes are continuing in the city of Deir el-Zour.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Friday four prominent leaders of the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) group have been killed in an airstrike outside the city of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria.

"As a result of a precision airstrike of the Russian air forces in the vicinity of Deir el-Zour city, a command post, communication center and some 40 ISIS fighters have been killed," the Russian defense ministry said Friday in a statement. The strike was carried out by Su-34 fighter-bombers and Su-35 fighters.

The strike followed an intelligence report that showed the IS commanders were meeting in an underground command post outside Deir el-Zour, the ministry said.

The Russian military named Gulmurod Khalimov and Abu Muhammad al-Shimali as two of the four IS leaders. The other two were not named. Khalimov, who had been described as the group's minister of war, suffered a "fatal injury," the ministry said. Khalimov defected to the militants in 2015 after serving as the head of the riot police force in Tajikistan

As a senior police commander, Khalimov travelled to the United States on several occasions for counter-terrorism training. Last year, the US placed a $3 million (2.49 million euro) bounty on his head.

Russia has been providing air cover for Syrian President Bashar Assad's offensive against IS since 2015.

Al-Shimali is reported to have supervised the movement of foreign fighters into Syria and processed the group's new recruits.

Heavy fighting is taking place between Syrian government forces and IS around Deir el-Zour as the militants fight to reinstate a years-long siege of the city. 

Syria denies chemical weapons

Separately the Syrian government issued a statement on Friday denying United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria claims it has "reasonable grounds" to believe the Syrian government was responsible for the April attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed at least 83 civilians.

The commission collected information from satellite images, video, photos, medical records, and over 300 interviews. However, the government said the information had come from "terrorists or their agents in the region."

ap/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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