Syrian rebels have killed 28 soldiers in attacks on military checkpoints in northern Idlib province, just hours after a wave of bombings hit Damascus and its outskirts, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels attacked three military checkpoints near the town of Saraqeb on Thursday (local time), killing the troops. Five rebels also died in gun battles following the attacks, according to the Observatory, which relies on reports from activists on the ground.
There was no official confirmation of the deaths from the authorities.
The relentless fighting in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people according to activists since March 2011, when the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime began. It started as peaceful protests inspired by the Arab Spring but quickly morphed into a bloody civil war.
The rebels fighting to topple Assad often complain they are outgunned by the military, which has in recent days intensified airstrikes on opposition strongholds following the failure of a UN-backed truce over a four-day holiday weekend that never took hold.
On Wednesday alone, activists said more than 100 were killed nationwide in airstrikes, artillery shelling and fighting. Much of the violence took place in rebellious suburbs of the capital Damascus and in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and a major front in the 19-month conflict.
In Damascus, "terrorists detonated" three bombs in Al-Mazzeh district late Wednesday night, targeting a mosque, a sports club and a shop, state-run news agency SANA said. One person was killed in the explosion near the district's Al-Houda mosque, and two were wounded, the agency reported on Thursday. Six people, including a child, were injured in the two other explosions, according to the report.
The government refers to rebels fighting to topple Assad as terrorists and accuses them and opposition supporters of being part of a foreign plot to destroy Syria.
Also according to SANA, authorities raised the death toll from another bombing on Wednesday evening in a Damascus suburb that houses a Shiite Muslim shrine to 12, after one more victim died of wounds.
Many Syrians, particularly those in Damascus where fighting and demonstrations have been relatively light, fear that Islamic extremists that have fought alongside rebel units may be targeting the capital more frequently to help drive Assad out of power.