Meanwhile, violence flared across Syria a day after the peace talks in Switzerland broke off with little prospect for a political settlement to the nearly three-year-long war.

In the southern Syrian province of Dara, rebels said Saturday that they had launched a broad offensive dubbed Geneva Houran, after the site of the peace talks and the Houran plains close to the Jordanian border.

The attack, which may mark a new phase of coordination among hitherto disparate rebel groups, included “thousands of fighters” according to one rebel spokesman. The opposition reported the capture of government checkpoints and the destruction of four army tanks and a radar station.

Syria’s official media, apparently referring to that battle, said troops “confronted a terrorist attempt to attack military points and bombarded” opposition strongholds in Dara province. The state media reported that Syrian forces killed dozens of “terrorists,” the official term for armed rebels, and had overrun opposition “dens.”

Syrian authorities also cited military advances against rebels in the suburbs of Damascus and in the northern province of Aleppo, where fighting among rebel groups has helped the government make recent gains, including securing the Aleppo airport and environs.

On Saturday, the state media reported that army units destroyed “so called ... religious courts” set up by Islamist rebels in a neighborhood of  Aleppo city, which has been divided between government and opposition forces for more than 18 months.

Opposition activists reported that more than a dozen civilians were killed when government aircraft dropped so-called barrel bombs — metal drums filled with explosives — on rebel-held areas of eastern Aleppo. Human rights advocates and the United Nations have called on the Syrian  government to cease the use of barrel bombs.


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Special correspondent Bulos in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.