Syrian rebels have bombarded a military air base in Aleppo using a tank captured from government troops as activists reported the regime has launched new raids against opposition fighters near the capital Damascus, killing dozens.
It was one of the first indications the rebels are starting to deploy the heavy weapons they've managed to capture in the past weeks from the Syrian army. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel-seized tank shelled the Menagh military airport outside Aleppo, which the regime has used to launch attacks on rebel positions in the surrounding area.
The incident represents an escalation in the 17-month-old uprising in which an estimated 19,000 have died, since the rebels now can start trading tank shells with the heavily armed regime that also has fighter jets and helicopter gunships.
The rebels have also been buoyed by new announcements of assistance by the US, which said it was earmarking an additional £7.75 million for Syrian civilians, on top of the extra £6.4 million in "nonlethal assistance" it promised the day before to the opposition.
Prospects for a diplomatic solution grew even dimmer Thursday, however, when the UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, announced his resignation by the end of the month, effectively sinking a UN mission that had seen little success up until now to get either side to agree on a ceasefire.
Rebel forces in northern Syria attacked the country's largest city of Aleppo two weeks ago and have captured several neighbourhoods, mostly lower income areas on the periphery, which they have since held despite ground and air assaults by the government.
Residents reported internet and mobile phones were barely working since the night before, which had raised fears of an imminent government onslaught on Aleppo. But the day only saw the usual clashes around the rebel bastion of Salaheddine and shelling, resident Abu Adel told The Associated Press. Communications also began to work again by late afternoon.
With its proximity to rebel-friendly Turkey just to the north, Aleppo has enormous strategic importance to the opposition and if the rebels were able to capture and hold it, the city could form the kernel of a wider rebel-controlled zone.