Qaeda leader in Syria town assassinated: monitor

A view of the Syrian town of Ariha, where Iyad al-Adl was shot dead along with a second member of Al-Nusra Front (AFP Photo/Ghaith Omran)

Beirut (AFP) - A local leader of Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate was assassinated by unknown gunmen on Wednesday, the latest in a string of killings of mostly hardline Islamist rebels, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Iyad al-Adl, "emir" for the town of Ariha in northwestern Syria's Idlib province, was shot dead along with a second member of Al-Nusra Front.

The Britain-based monitor said unidentified gunmen opened fire on the car in which the men were driving in a western neighbourhood of Ariha.

The assassination is the latest in a series of targeted killings of senior Islamist rebels, including from the Al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra and its ally Ahrar al-Sham.

Analysts say the killings could be the work of the regime or the Islamic State group, which considers all factions that have not pledged allegiance to it to be its rivals.

At least 20 rebel commanders have been killed in the assassinations since early December in several parts of Syria, including central Homs province, southern Daraa and elsewhere in Idlib.

Idlib province is held by the powerful "Army of Conquest" coalition of rebels including Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

Rebel groups have regularly accused IS of having sleeper cells in their territory, but the jihadists have not openly claimed the assassinations.

More than 260,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.