Regime troops batter south Damascus rebels: monitor

BEIRUT - Syrian troops heavily shelled rebel-held areas of southern Damascus Friday as part of a bid to completely cut them off from rear bases in the countryside, a monitoring group said.

Backed by Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah fighters and militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the army was "advancing on Sbeineh and has taken control of parts of it," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.

The advance comes amid "fierce shelling" on the town "since early this morning," he said.

Abdel Rahman said "people were fleeing their homes, and there are serious fears for the lives of the large number of civilians living in that area.

"The army is trying to advance on areas in the south of the capital, and is trying to isolate them completely from the southern countryside," where the rebels have rear bases, he added.

The reports come a day after army rocket fire killed eight people in Damascus' southern Al-Hajad Al-Aswad neighbourhood, which was part of an escalation by the regime in the area.

The army has tried for months to secure the capital and to crush rebels positioned in the outer belt of Damascus, particularly in the south and in the east.

More than 120,000 people have been killed in the 31-month rebellion against President Assad's regime triggered by its bloody crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired democracy protests.