Syrian rebels attacked a strategic army base in Aleppo on Friday, as bomb attacks in Damascus and fighting elsewhere claimed more than 100 lives and as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared to visit Damascus in a new bid to end the bloodshed.
The rebels claimed to have captured part of a fortress-like army position in the the Hanano district of the northern city after fierce fighting, a claim denied by the the army.
At least 18 soldiers and four rebels were killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Rebel commander Abu Omar told AFP the goal of the offensive was to liberate Hanano, cut strategic supply lines and put a stop to shelling that has caused high civilian casualties in Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub.
FSA media coordinator Abdullah Yasser said Hanano is "one of the main places from which they are shooting, so taking it over could be a turning point for us."
In Damascus, a motorcycle bomb struck as worshippers left a mosque after weekly prayers in the Rokn Eddin neighbourhood, state television said.
"The terrorist attack killed five members of the security forces and injured several others," it said.
In a second attack, a car bomb caused damage near the courthouses in central Damascus, the television said, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said another blast struck the Salhiyeh district.
Syrian demonstrators shout slogans during a protest in support of the Free Syrian Army near the Syrian-Turkish border crossing of Al-Salama. Syrian rebels attacked a strategic army base in Aleppo on Friday, as bomb attacks in Damascus and fighting elsewhere claimed more than 100 lives and as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared to visit Damascus in a new bid to end the bloodshed.
Despite the violence sweeping the country, anti-regime protests were held in several towns and villages, the Britain-based Observatory said.
On the southeast outskirts of Damascus, hundreds of troops backed by armour stormed the town of Babila, where FSA elements were entrenched, it added.
A raid by security forces on Al-Qazzaz in southeastern Damascus, in which troops rounded up dozens of suspected militants, sparked clashes with rebels, the Observatory said.
Elsewhere, two children were killed when Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border was shelled, and two rebels were killed by mortar fire in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, the Observatory said.
In the northwestern province of Idlib, scores of homes were destroyed by shelling, and a child was killed in an air strike on rebel-held Rastan in the central Homs province, and three civilians died in Talbisseh town, it said.
At least 100 people, mostly civilians, were killed nationwide, according to the Observatory.
A Syrian rebel smokes a waterpipe as he rests with comrades in the Salaheddin district of the northern city of Aleppo. Syrian rebels attacked a strategic army base in Aleppo on Friday, as bomb attacks in Damascus and fighting elsewhere claimed more than 100 lives and as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared to visit Damascus in a new bid to end the bloodshed.
In another grisly find in the almost 18-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime, residents recovered 45 bodies in two towns on the outskirts of Damascus, the group said.
It said at least 23 bodies, including those of women and children, were found in the eastern suburb of Zamalka on Thursday, while another 22 were discovered in Qatana southeast of the capital.
Opposition activists blamed pro-government forces for the Zamalka killings, accusing the regime of a "new massacre."
On Friday, the bodies of 16 men were found in Harasta, also in Damascus province, some bearing signs of torture, the Observatory said.
The conflict in Syria has claimed a total of more than 26,000 lives since it erupted in mid-March 2011, according to the Observatory, with civilians accounting for most of those killed.
-- New peace envoy readies Damascus trip --
Meanwhile, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will hold talks with Arab League leaders in Cairo on Sunday and wants to visit Damascus in the days after, his spokesman said in New York.
Brahimi is working on final details of a visit, spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told AFP.
The talks at the Arab League headquarters will be Brahimi's first official trip to the region since taking over from former UN chief Kofi Annan.
"We are working on the final details of a plan to visit Damascus and it will happen quite soon if all the details fall into place," Fawzi said.
According to UN diplomats, Brahimi has been seeking guarantees that he will get a proper meeting with Assad before going.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers meeting in nearby Cyprus called for a massive boost in aid to Syrian civilians amid mounting fears the humanitarian crisis could affect Europe.
As Brussels announced an extra 50 million euros ($63 million) for civilians trapped in the conflict, the ministers opened a two-day meeting in the resort of Paphos, barely 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Syria.
"Humanitarian needs are rising rapidly," warned British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "We need additional contributions to the human effort urgently. I want to put the proposal to my colleagues that other EU nations need to do more."
The latest aid brings the EU contribution in all to 200 million euros, half of all international help.
It is aimed at reaching the 200,000 refugees massed in neighbours Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq as well as the 1.2 million people displaced inside Syria by the conflict.
In related news, the United Nations almost doubled its humanitarian appeal for Syria to $347 million, estimating that more than 2.5 million people need food and medical help.
Syrians look from their apartments at the site of a car bomb blast in the Mazzeh area of Damascus in this photo released by the Syrian Arab News Agency. Syrian rebels attacked a strategic army base in Aleppo on Friday, as bomb attacks in Damascus and fighting elsewhere claimed more than 100 lives and as peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi prepared to visit Damascus in a new bid to end the bloodshed.
Hague said in a letter seen by AFP that was sent to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton ahead of the talks that the bloc needed to play a bigger role in resolving the Syrian crisis.
His counterparts from France and Italy, Laurent Fabius and Giulio Terzi, said in a separate message that the crisis was at "a turning-point" and that "Syria matters above all to Europe".
Should the EU fail to help resolve the crisis, Europe's security could be threatened from problems ranging from terror, arms proliferation and illegal immigration to energy security, they warned.
Europe's answer to the challenge thrown up by potential migration flows and asylum seekers was to help countries such as Turkey and Jordan host the refugees on Syria's border, the ministers said.
France was expected to urge its partners at Friday's talks to find ways to help funnel medicines, cash and other resources to civilians trapped in rebel-held areas.