Reuters International

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian government forces and their allies seized territory from rebels outside Damascus, encroaching on a pocket of insurgent-held land east of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and state media reported on Wednesday.

The advance took place overnight near the town of Hosh al-Fara area in the Eastern Ghouta suburb, the British-based monitoring group said.

Quoting a military source, Syrian state news agency SANA said government and allied forces took control of a farming area south-east of Hosh al-Fara during the day on Wednesday.

Fighting around the capital has intensified according to the Observatory, and government forces have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held areas. A rare bout of rebel mortar fire on government-controlled central Damascus on Sunday killed several people.

Government forces and allies including Lebanese Hezbollah fighters seized an extensive area southeast of Damascus from rebels in May, closing off a pocket under insurgent control in Eastern Ghouta, and have since advanced, compromising a supply route into opposition territory.

The Observatory said on Wednesday the areas taken overnight represented an important base for the Jaish al-Islam rebel group, which controls much of Eastern Ghouta.

Jaish al-Islam denied there had been significant government advances in the area, but said there were large government attacks taking place.

"It is not true, but the regime is waging a very big attack," spokesman Islam Alloush said.

The Observatory said government helicopters had dropped dozens of barrel bombs on Douma on Monday, and jets had carried out air strikes on Daraya, another besieged area in Damascus's southwestern suburbs.

Fighting continues across much of Syria after diplomatic efforts to end the five-year conflict failed earlier this year. The United Nations says it hopes to convene fresh peace talks in next month.

(Reporting by John Davison, additional reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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