Iran Guards Commander Killed in Syria and Tunnel Bombing Leaves 20 Soldiers Deadإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
A commander from Iran's Revolutionary Guards has been killed in Syria, media said Saturday, a disclosure that runs counter to Tehran's insistence it is not fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces.
Reports that Abdollah Eskandari died while "defending" a Shiite shrine emerged earlier this week but neither the elite military unit nor Iran's foreign ministry have passed comment.
However, the Fars news agency reported that a funeral service would be held for the commander Sunday in the city of Shiraz.
Eskandari was formerly a commander of the Guards' ground forces and also headed a state-run charity in southern Iran that helps war veterans and families of fallen soldiers.
Neither the circumstances of his killing nor details about his role in the Syrian civil war -- where Iran has staunchly backed the Assad regime -- have been officially confirmed.
Since the conflict's outbreak in March 2011, Iran has provided Damascus with intelligence, materiel and military advisers.
But Iran insists it has never sent combat troops to Syria, rejecting such claims made by mostly Sunni rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.
Despite the denials, Iranian media occasionally reports the deaths of Iranian volunteer fighters killed in Syria.
Among them was Guards commander Mohammad Jamali Paqale who was killed in November while "defending" the Shiite holy site of Zeinab shrine in Damascus.
Iran is backing Assad to win a third seven-year term in a Tuesday election that rebels, their Western and Arab backers and critics are dismissing as a farce.
The poll will only be held in government-controlled areas inside Syria and not in large swathes of territory that are in rebel hands.
"This election will strengthen the legitimacy of the Bashar Assad government," Ali Akbar Velayati, the senior foreign policy adviser to Iran's supreme leader, said Friday.
"His people have realized (Assad) has prevented Syria from disintegrating or falling to occupation," Velayati added.
Also on Saturday, at least 20 Syrian soldiers and militia were killed in a fresh attack by Islamist rebels, who planted explosives in a tunnel under an army position in Aleppo, a monitor said.
The historic Old City area has seen horrific violence ever since a major rebel offensive on Aleppo in July 2012.
It is a flashpoint area that sees daily fighting, and the army has set up multiple positions there.
"Islamist rebels detonated a tunnel near the Zahrawi market in the Old City of Aleppo, killing at least 20 army soldiers and pro-regime militiamen," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Fighting broke out after the explosion, and at least one rebel was killed, said the Britain-based Observatory.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic Front, Syria's largest rebel alliance, which groups thousands of fighters across the strife-torn country.
The Front posted a link to a video on its Twitter account, showing a huge blast throwing a massive cloud of debris up into the air.
In recent weeks, the Islamic Front has frequently used tunnels to plant massive amounts of explosives beneath army positions.
The tactic has been used mainly in Aleppo and neighboring Idlib provinces.
The latest blast came a day after the Observatory said some 2,000 people have been killed since January in regime bombing of rebel-held areas of Aleppo city and nearby towns and villages.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 160,000 people.