Notorious Syrian regime general 'killed in Deir az-Zour'
Issam Zaher al-Deen, a senior field commander in the Republican Guard, died after his convoy struck a landmine in the Deir az-Zour province, media reports said.
Zaher al-Deen had been leading the regime's offensive on Deir az-Zour - the capital of the oil-rich eastern province of the same name - which has been largely controlled by the Islamic State group since 2014.
The field commander, instantly recognisable by his grey beard, is well-known for his brutal tactics in the war against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Last year, he was photographed with mutilated bodies of dead IS militants. The two bodies appeared to have been cut into pieces before being hanged.
As a high-ranking official and one of President Bashar al-Assad's most trusted generals, his death is thought to be a major blow to regime forces.
The commander said last month in an interview with state-run television that the millions of refugees who have fled the years of fighting should never come back.
"Even if the state forgives you, I swear that we will never forgive and forget. A piece of advice from me to all of you: none of you should come back," he said.
Zaher al-Deen later backtracked on his controversial comments in an audio message published by local media, claiming his words had been taken out of context.
A lawsuit filed against the Syrian regime in 2016 on behalf of the family of slain American journalist Marie Colvin also listed Zaher al-Deen as one of multiple high-ranking officials accused of conspiring to have her killed for defying a Syrian media ban.
The family alleges that after learning of her whereabouts Zahar al-Deen ordered an artillery attack on the media centre where she had been staying.
Reports of his death sparked heated reactions on social media, with descriptions of him ranging from war criminal to national hero.
Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 with protests calling for Assad's ouster that turned into a complex war drawing in world powers.