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21 Die in Mariupol Attack in Ukraine   01/24 09:18

   Indiscriminate rocket fire that hit a market, schools and homes Saturday in 
Ukraine's strategically important coastal city of Mariupol killed at least 21 
people, authorities said.

   KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Indiscriminate rocket fire that hit a market, schools 
and homes Saturday in Ukraine's strategically important coastal city of 
Mariupol killed at least 21 people, authorities said.

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

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

   The Defense Ministry said in a statement that there were three separate 
strikes from Grad multiple rocket launchers on Mariupol and surrounding areas.

   "The area that came under attack was massive," Mariupol mayor Yuriy 
Khotlubei said in a video statement. "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."

   The Donetsk region prosecutor's office said in a mid-afternoon statement 
that 21 people had been killed.

   Defense and police officials said rockets struck homes, a kindergarten, a 
market and shops. There was no immediate report of how many people died in 
various locations.

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

   Rocket strikes on Mariupol come as separatists have declared their intention 
to mount a multi-pronged offensive aimed at vastly increasing the territory 
under their control. That would definitively upend recent European attempts to 
mediate an end to the fighting.

   Mariupol city council urged residents not to panic and to ignore rumors 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.

   The U.N. human rights agency on Friday raised its estimate of the conflict's 
overall death toll to nearly 5,100 since April.

   On Thursday, mortars rained down on the center of the separatist stronghold 
of Donetsk, hitting a bus and killing several bystanders. Rebel officials said 
13 were killed in that attack. Monitors from the Organization for Security and 
Cooperation in Europe cited city morgue officials as saying they have received 
eight bodies.

   On Jan. 13, a bus parked near an army checkpoint north of Mariupol was hit 
by a shell, resulting in the death of 13 people. Ukraine blamed the rocket 
attack on separatists.

   The OSCE's special monitoring mission (SMM) in east Ukraine on Saturday 
expressed concern over the growing number of civilian casualties and called for 
restraint from all sides.

   "The SMM strongly condemns the continuation of the fighting in residential 
areas. Using residential areas as firing positions attracts counter-firing to 
these areas, further endangering the lives of civilians," the mission said in a 
statement.

   Clashes are 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.

   Fighting has also been intensifying recently for the government-held town of 
Debaltseve. Main roads to the town lie in separatist control and speculation is 
mounting that Ukrainian forces stationed there could soon be fully encircled.

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

   A peace deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk 
envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division line in 
eastern Ukraine. It has been repeatedly violated by both sides, and heavy 
artillery and rocket barrages have increased the civilian death toll in the 
last few weeks.

   Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany agreed Wednesday 
to revive that division line, but fighting has continued unabated.


(KA)


 
 
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