At least 15 people have died after heavy rockets fell on residential areas in the Ukrainian city Mariupol. The bombings come in the wake of a rejection by Russian backed rebels to participate in peace talks.
Ukrainian officials have said pro-Russian rebels' carried out the shelling in the key port city of Mariupol in Ukraine's southeast on Saturday morning.
The head of the Kyiv-controlled Donetsk regional police said long-range Grad rockets struck the city, destroying residential buildings and a market.
"As a result of shelling by rebels of a residential sector of Mariupol...10 people have been killed," police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said in a Facebook post. The death toll was later increased to 15.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry said the rockets struck homes, setting them alight, as well as the market and shops. A Ukrainian military point situated on the road leading from Mariupol toward the rebel-held areas was also targeted, authorities said.
Kyiv forces to stay put
Pro-Kyiv volunteer of the Azov regiment and Mariupol resident Eduard told the AFP news agency there were "many wounded" in Saturday's attack.
The city council issued a statement Saturday to saying Ukrainian armed forces would remain in the region and for calling on residents not to panic.
"All units are fully battle ready. Security measures in the city have been strengthened," the statement read.
Separatists denied responsibility for the attack.
"This is blatant misinformation and a lie. Rebel forces did not open any fire in the direction of Mariupol, especially not on residential areas," Reuters news agency reported, citing comments made by rebels to the Interfax news agency.
Key link to Crimea
Mariupol, an important port-city, lies on the Azov Sea and is the major city between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
A rebel assault in the region in August raised fears Russian-backed rebels would attempt to create a land link between Crimea and Russia.
Pro-Russian rebels on Friday rejected the September 5 truce agreed with Kyiv. One of the separatist group's leaders threatened to escalate the nine-month battle and seize land in southeastern Ukraine, which is still under the control of the central Kyiv government.
Russia has insisted that it does not support the separatists, but Western military officials report the vast number of heavy weapons in rebel control disproves that.
Foreign ministers from Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia agreed Wednesday in Berlin to restore the division line, but fighting persisted.
The European Union responded by appealing to Moscow to use its influence on the rebels to get them to comply with the ceasefire.
"Those responsible for the recent escalation must now show that they are serious about their commitment to a political settlement," said the EU's foreign policy coordinator, Federica Mogherini. "We call notably on Russia to fully assume its responsibility."
The United Nations raised its estimate of the conflict's death toll on Friday to around 5,100 since April, 2014.
jlw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)