The head of Syria's air defences was killed in clashes near the capital, Damascus, a government official and activists said Sunday, one of a few high-ranking military officers to be killed in the country's 3-year-old civil war.

Lt. Gen. Hussein Ishaq died Saturday as rebels attacked a Syrian air defence base near the town of Mleiha, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to brief journalists about Ishaq's death.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed Ishaq's death. It said he died from wounds he suffered during Saturday's fighting.

The Observatory, which bases its reports on a network of activists on the ground, said Ishaq was killed in clashes with fighters from the Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and other Islamic rebel groups.

Heavy fighting has happened around Mleiha in recent weeks. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have conducted a heavy bombing campaign around the area, which rebels see as strategically important due to its proximity to the capital.

Ishaq is one of a few high-ranking military officers to be killed in the Syrian war. It's unclear if his death will have any wider strategic or military impact on the war itself, however.

Rebels also captured a village in northwestern Syria on Sunday, killing more than a dozen government troops in heavy clashes and prompting the military to carry out airstrikes to try to dislodge the fighters, activists said.

The village of Tel Meleh, northwest of the city of Hama, has changed hands several times over the course of Syria's three-year conflict, which has killed more than 150,000 people.

The anti-government Local Coordination Committees activist group says the rebels killed "large numbers" of President Bashar Assad's forces and destroyed at least one tank while taking Tel Meleh.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 18 pro-government troops and two rebels were killed in the fighting. It said government warplanes conducted airstrikes on Tel Meleh Sunday afternoon.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says the government will be anxious to reassert control over Tel Meleh since many of the surrounding villages and towns are primarily populated by Christians as well as members of Assad's own Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The Syrian opposition, meanwhile, is dominated by the country's Sunni Muslim majority in a conflict that has taken on deep sectarian overtones.

While battling the government on the one hand, the rebels also have been locked in a bitter struggle in northern Syria since January with the al-Qaeda splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The fighting has killed more than 1,000 people and undermined the broader rebel effort to oust Assad.

On Sunday, Islamic State fighters killed at least 19 rebels near the village of Raai in Aleppo province, the Observatory said.

Once having a sprawling presence across most of rebel-held northern Syria, the Islamic State has pulled back many of its forces to its stronghold of Raqqa on the Euphrates River and has looked to expand the territory under its control from there.