A Syrian army general has been killed fighting in Deir Ezzor, weeks after he told Syrians refugees they should never return home, according to pro-government media sources.
Issam Zahreddine, a major general in the Republican Guard, was commanding a brigade of 7,000 soldiers against Islamic State (IS) when he was killed by a landmine.
Just weeks ago, Zahreddine, a high-profile figure among supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, celebrated after the Syrian army broke the IS's siege on the city.
"We promised that we would not let Deir Ezzor fall, and it did not fall," he said.
But it was his comments to Syrian state television directed at fellow Syrians who had fled the country which drew controversy.
"I beg you don't ever return, because even if the government forgives you, we will never forgive or forget," he said during the aired interview last month.
"If you know what is good for you, none of you return."
He later apologised, saying that he had been referring to IS and rebel fighters who killed Syrian troops.
"I was talking after I had seen the bodies of many Syrian soldiers who had been executed and beheaded and chopped into pieces," he said. "Of course our fellow citizens who have gone abroad are most welcome to return."