Former Syrian army chief Ali Habib dies aged 81
The official statement said that Habib died at the Al Assad University Hospital in Damascus on Friday morning at the age of 81.
His body was set to be returned to his hometown near the city of Tartus, it added.
Rumours of Habib having fled to Turkey and defected to the Syrian opposition surfaced in 2013, at a point when the Assad regime was nearing collapse two years into the civil war. However these were later proved false and it is thought that Habib remained in Syria throughout the war until his death.
Born into an Alawite family in Tartus in 1939, Habib joined the army aged 20.
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After fighting in the 1973 war with Israel, Habib quickly rose through the ranks of the military, being appointed commander of the Special Forces in 1994 and later chief of general staff of the Syrian Army in 2004.
President Bashar Assad appointed Habib as defence minister in June 2009, serving until August 2011. Sources at the time said that Habib had attempted to resist Assad's decision to use the army to crush the popular revolts that erupted that year.
However until that point, Habib had been a loyal member of Assad's inner circle.
In May 2011, the United States imposed sanctions on Habib by executive order, accusing him and the Syrian regime's key figures of human rights abuses.
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