INTENSE Syrian government shelling and air strikes on rebel-held Damascus suburbs have killed nearly 130 people in two days, marking the deadliest bombardment of the region in three years.

Retaliatory shells rained down on Damascus, killing at least eight people and causing panic among residents of the Syrian capital, the seat of President Bashar Assad’s power.

The violence in the capital and nearby areas came as scores of pro-government gunmen began entering the northern Kurdish enclave of Afrin – where Turkish forces are fighting Syrian Kurdish troops (the YPG) in a separate offensive.

Turkish troops shelled the areas shortly after the fighters entered the area, forcing journalists to flee. Turkish state media reported the pro-government forces then fell back to six miles from Afrin city.

Suburbs targeted by the government, scattered across an area known as eastern Ghouta, have been subjected to a weeks-long bombardment killing and wounding hundreds of people.

Opposition activists said government forces have brought in more reinforcements in recent days, suggesting a major assault is imminent to recapture the last main rebel stronghold near Damascus.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was the deadliest days in eastern Ghouta since 2015, adding that 20 children and 15 women were among those killed.