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30 killed in pro- Russian rebel attack on Ukraine port city
 








AP

KIEV

Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, two schools, homes and shops on Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, killing at least 30 people, authorities said.

Ukraine's top rebel leader announced that an offensive had begun on the strategically important port.

The attack came a day after the rebels rejected a peace deal and said they were going on a multi-prong offensive against the government in Kiev to vastly increase their territory. The rebel stance is upending European attempts to mediate an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which the UN said on Friday has killed nearly 5,100 people since April.

Mariupol, which lies on the Azov Sea, is the major city between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Heavy fighting in the region in the fall raised fears that Russian-backed separatist forces would try to take over the government-held city to establish a land link between Russia and Crimea.

The RIA Novosti news agency cited Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko as saying on Saturday that an offensive had begun on Mariupol. He spoke as he laid a wreath where at least eight civilians died when a bus stop was shelled in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine.

Rebel forces have positions within 10 kilometres (six miles) from Mariupol's eastern outskirts.

Ukraine's Defence Ministry said there were three separate strikes from Grad multiple-rocket launchers on Saturday on Mariupol and surrounding areas.

"The area that came under attack was massive," Mariupol mayor Yuriy Khotlubei said."The shelling was carried out by militants. This is very clearly Russian aggression that has caused terrible losses for the residents of the eastern part of our city."

Shortly after the attack, local authorities said around 10 people had died, but by the evening, Khotlubei announced the death toll had risen to 29. There was no immediate report of how many people died in each location.

A Ukrainian military checkpoint on a road out of the city toward rebel-held areas was also hit and one serviceman was killed, the Defence Ministry said.

Mariupol city council urged residents not to panic and to ignore rumours that Ukrainian armed forces were planning to withdraw.

"On the contrary, all units are on fully battle-ready. Security measures in the city have been strengthened," the council said in a statement.

No armed separatist units have been noted moving toward the city, the statement added.

Responding to the attack upon Mariupol, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called on Russia to use its influence over the separatist leaders to halt their offensive and to desist from providing military and financial support.

Russia insists it does not support the rebels, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim.

Clashes were taking place across the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatist insurgencies emerged in April following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.


 
 

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