Rebel leaders in Syria say they have repelled a promised regime attack on Aleppo and launched a counter-offensive after learning from their mistakes in the heavy defeat at the town of Qusayr.
Their claim came as car bombs ripped through a military airbase in Aleppo and a pro-government area of Damascus, while suicide bombers tried to storm two police stations elsewhere in the capital.
At least 25 people were reported killed in the escalating battles to control Syria's top two cities. The bombing at the Mannagh military airport, north of Aleppo, carried out in conjunction with a missile strike, destroyed several buildings at the base, which is partially under rebel control, according to the British-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian state media had announced that ''Operation Northern Storm'' would retake Aleppo ''within days'' after regime forces captured Qusayr at the beginning of June. Opposition figures said thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, along with Iranian advisers, were moved to Syria's second city to begin an advance.
However, after tank sallies north of the city were apparently repelled by rebel forces, there has been no sign of a major offensive.
''We are starting to attack the government,'' said Colonel Abduljabar al-Oqaidi, a former regime colonel who leads the Aleppo military council. ''The regime pushed forward in the north of the city, but the Free Syrian Army caused a lot of casualties and they went back to their bases.''
Six suicide bombers tried to storm two police stations in Damascus, killing themselves and five others, state television reported.
Separately, a car bomb went off in Mezze 86, a Damascus neighbourhood inhabited mostly by Alawites, killing two people, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said.
Videos from Qusayr, confirmed by accounts of participants now in Lebanon and in Aleppo, showed streams of dejected people, mainly men but some women and children, staggering through fields and orchards. They came under repeated attack before breaking into separate groups. The Aleppo convoy had to break through regime lines under shellfire.
Aleppo is in the rebels' Sunni heartlands and Turkey, their ally and one of the main conduits for their arms, is just 40 kilometres away. Qusayr is close to Hezbollah's Lebanon bases.
Colonel Oqaidi has resigned from the Revolutionary Military Council, headed by rebel commander General Selim Idriss, complaining that weapons supplies are still being directed to brigades favoured by donors such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, instead of a central command structure.
Telegraph, London, Bloomberg