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An explosion at a trolleybus stop in war-torn eastern Ukraine's Donetsk has killed several people, an official has said. Government forces have also reportedly withdrawn from the city's long-contested airport.
At least nine civilians were killed when a shell hit a trolleybus stop in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk
At least nine civilians in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk were killed on Thursday when an explosion from a shell or grenade tore into a bus they were traveling on, according to an official with the city's emergency services. However, an official with the city's emergency services said 12 people died in the bus while another was killed in a passing car.
A Reuters cameraman said he saw six bodies on the ground near, and inside, a trolleybus in the southern part of Donetsk city, a stronghold for pro-Russian fighters in Ukraine. Windows of shops nearby had been blown out by the blast.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk blamed the attack on separatists, who Ukrainian officials and their allies in the United States and EU say are backed by Russia.
"Today Russian terrorists again committed a terrible act against humanity," Yatsensyuk said Thursday at a ceremony to mark Ukraine's Unity Day in Kyiv. "Russia bears responsibility for this."
The Russian Foreign Ministry denounced the civilians' deaths in rebel-held Donetsk as a "grave provocation" and placed the blame for the attack on Ukrainian troops.
"We regard this incident as a crime against humanity, a blunt provocation aimed at undermining efforts to seek a peaceful solution of the crisis," the ministry said in a statement.
On Wednesday night, shelling in a neighborhood near Donetsk airport, the epicenter of clashes in recent days, hit another bus and killed one person, city official Ivan Prikhodko told the AFP news agency.
Thursday's violence came hours after the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France ended a crisis meeting in Berlin with a joint call to cease hostilities, but no breakthrough agreement to stop the bloodshed.
"Today we have finally agreed that the demarcation line mentioned in the Minsk agreement is the line from where the withdrawal of heavy weapons needs to take place now," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters late on Wednesday.
Kyiv pulls forces from airport terminal
Ukrainian forces have all but withdrawn from Donetsk airport after months of fighting. Military officials, however, have continued to insist they hold part of the terminal.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Thursday that six soldiers had died over the previous day of fighting for the airport, which lies on the northern edge of the Russian-backed separatists' stronghold.
Russian television reporters on Wednesday toured the airport building and showed the bodies of killed Ukrainian soldiers.
Fighting for the airport peaked over the weekend, shattering the relative tranquility in place since a new truce was reached in early December.
More than 5,000 have been killed and a million forced out of their homes by the nine-month conflict raging over the Russian-speaking separatist east of Ukraine, an international monitoring group (OSCE) said on Thursday.
Ukraine fighting has intensified
The fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine has intensified to levels that preceded the September ceasefire deal, NATO's top military commander General Philip Breedlove said Thursday.
"The fighting has intensified to pre-agreement, pre-stand down levels and in some cases beyond," Breedlove told reporters in Brussels, referring to the largely ineffective ceasefire agreed in Minsk.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel accused Russia of violating Europe's peaceful post-war order with its interventions in Ukraine and said Europe could not consider lifting economic sanctions against Moscow until it changed course.
"The annexation of Crimea is not just any annexation. It is a violation of the values that created a peaceful order in Europe after World War Two, namely the acceptance of borders and respect of territorial integrity," Merkel said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
jil/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)