97 hospitalised as rockets strike homes, shops and military checkpoints
Ukraine: A crowded open-air market and nearby homes in Ukraine’s strategically important coastal city of Mariupol came under rocket fire on Saturday morning, killing at least 30 people at the time of going to press.
A man stands inside a building damaged by shelling in Mariupol, southern Ukraine, on Saturday. Pic/AFP
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 raised fears that Russian-backed separatist forces would try to establish a land link between Russia and Crimea.
The Interior Ministry said rockets struck homes, shops and even a military checkpoint. At the time of going to press, city council said that 97 have been hospitalised for their injuries.
Rocket strikes on Mariupol came as separatists 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.
The city council urged residents not to panic. “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 UN human rights agency on Friday raised its estimate of the conflict's overall death toll to nearly 5,100 since April.
Civilians in danger
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)’s special monitoring mission (SMM) in east Ukraine expressed concern over the growing number of civilian casualties and called for restraint from all sides. “Using residential areas as firing positions attracts counter-firing to these areas, further endangering the lives of civilians,” it said in a statement.
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 on Wednesday to revive that division line, but fighting has continued unabated.