The Syrian army stepped up shelling and air strikes on the last opposition-held enclaves in the Syrian capital today, its heaviest bombardment in a two-month campaign, witnesses said.
From the strategic Qasyoun Heights that overlooks Damascus, elite units of the army pounded Jobar district, some two kilometres east of the Old City wall and Ain Terma just to the south.
The army's offensive has dented a Russian-sponsored ceasefire announced two weeks ago in the Eastern Ghouta area to the east of Damascus.
Moscow has said it is negotiating with mainstream opposition groups in several areas across Syria to create new de-escalation zones and calm fighting.
Rebels and residents said Moscow had already begun deploying some military police in certain checkpoints that border the rebel-held northern Homs countryside and in southwestern Syria where "de-escalation" zones have been announced.
Residents and rescuers say the Syrian army has intensified shelling of civilian areas in the Eastern Ghouta region where opposition groups are holed up, many in underground tunnels, out of frustration at the lack of progress.
At least 15 civilians have been killed and scores of others injured in three days of sustained bombardment.
The UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the conflict said at least 20 army soldiers were either killed, injured or taken prisoner in the past 24 hours, confirming opposition estimates.
Less intense shelling has hit Zamalka, Harasta and Kafr Btna, also in Eastern Ghouta. Social media videos downloaded by activists showed sorties of jets pounding areas in Ain Tarma and Jobar, with fire erupting in places and large plumes of smoke rising into the air.
Eastern Ghouta has been under opposition control for much of the six-year conflict. Jobar is in northeast Damascus and borders the Eastern Ghouta district of Ain Terma.
The army is also using more elephant rockets – inaccurate and improvised munitions often made from gas canisters and fired on a high trajectory – insurgents said.
The elephant rockets are not having mercy on us. We have dug tunnels and fortified our positions so they are unable to advance
said Abu Obada al Shami, a commander from Failaq Al-Rahman, the opposition group whose fighters are drawn from the area.
Before the war began in 2011, more than half a million people lived in Eastern Ghouta, a sprawling mix of towns and farmland.
Two residents said Ain Terma was now a ghost town, with only a few hundred families taking shelter in basements after most former residents fled to other towns in Eastern Ghouta.