President Bashar al-Assad
President Bashar al-AssadAFP photo

Hilal Al-Assad, the cousin of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, was killed on Sunday along with seven of his fighters during fighting in the border town of Kasab in Latakia province, Al Jazeera reported.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the death. It was confirmed by Syrian state television, which described Hilal as the head of the National Defense Force in the province of Latakia.

Hilal founded the National Defense Army, a group of pro-government civilians fighting alongside the Syrian army, according to Al Jazeera.

A Syrian opposition group named Jaish Al Islam (Islam Army Front) claimed responsibility for the killing in a statement published on its website.

"The first rocket was fired around 7:15 pm, followed by another five minutes later. The rockets targeted a house where Hilal was holding a meeting with other members of the National Defense Army,” the statement quoted by Al Jazeera said.

On Sunday, activists and state media reported clashes near the town of Kasab and said both sides were dispatching reinforcements. Syrian officials said the opposition fighters were coming from inside Turkey.

The battle for Kasab broke out on Friday and at least 80 fighters on both sides have been killed.

The death of Assad’s cousin comes a week after the Syrian army scored an important victory when it captured the key town of Yabroud on the Lebanese border from rebel groups.

In 2012, Assad’s brother-in-law was killed, along with two other top officials, when rebels detonated a bomb inside the Syrian government’s security headquarters in Damascus.

Last week marked three years since the beginning of the Syrian civil war and, while Assad has sustained some losses, he has managed to hang on to power.