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Fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine ahead of peace talks

Published:Tuesday | February 10, 2015 | 11:05 PM

UKRAINE

Fighting intensifies in eastern Ukraine ahead of peace talks

SARTANA, Ukraine (AP) -- Fighting intensified yesterday in eastern Ukraine ahead of much-anticipated peace talks, with both sides claiming significant advances. The government accused the Russian-backed rebels of shelling a town far behind the front lines, killing 12 people and wounding 64 others.

The fighting, which the U.N. says has killed more than 5,300 people since last April, comes ahead of a crucial summit planned for today in Minsk involving the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the talks were "one of the last" opportunities for ending the fighting.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of fueling the rebellion with troops and weapons. Moscow denies the charge but the sheer number of sophisticated heavy weapons in the rebel hands belies the denial.

Poroshenko told the parliament in Kiev that the separatists launched a rocket strike yesterday on the town of Kramatorsk, which is more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the nearest front line. Poroshenko said the first round of rocket fire hit the region's Ukrainian military command headquarters and the second salvo landed in a residential area.

Rebels denied any involvement in the attack and said it was a "provocation" by the Ukrainian authorities. Kramatorsk was the site of major fighting until July, when pro-Russian separatists retreated.

The government-controlled Donetsk administration said five civilians and five servicemen were killed on the spot and two other people later died of wounds at a hospital. It said 29 civilians and 35 servicemen were wounded by the rocket barrage in Kramatorsk. Photos on the local Donetskiye Novosti website showed an artillery shell stuck in the ground next to a residential building and two bodies lying nearby.