Syria: Government forces push further into easter suburbs of Damascus
Syrian government forces have made their deepest push yet into the eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, inflicting a major blow to opposition fighters who have vowed not to surrender.
Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group said government forces have laid siege on the rebel-held town of Harasta, cutting it off from the rest of the suburbs known as eastern Ghouta.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces have also cut off the main highway that links northern Ghouta with its southern parts, isolating the town of Douma, the largest in the area.
The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media (SCMM) said troops captured the Kilani gas station on the main highway linking Douma with Harasata and those two areas with the rest of eastern Ghouta.
Rami Abdurrahman from the Observatory said: "The regime has cut Ghouta into three parts by cutting the main roads linking them."
The government and its Russian backers, determined to wrest eastern Ghouta from rebel control after seven years of war, recently intensified the shelling and bombardment to clear the way for its troops to advance on the ground.
Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in the past three weeks of bombardment.
SCMM said troops reached the centre of the town of Misraba on Saturday, adding that opposition fighters were crumbling amid the offensive.
Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad denied in a news conference in Damascus opposition charges that government forces used poison gas in their attacks on eastern Ghouta.
Mr Mekdad said that insurgents groups in the area are preparing to "fabricate" more such attacks to blame the Syrian army.
The Observatory said three weeks of fighting have left 976 people dead, including nearly 200 children.
The group said the dead also include 146 soldiers and pro-government gunmen.