Four dead as fighting spikes in Ukraine's rebel east

Kiev (AFP) –


At least four people were killed and nine others wounded in Ukraine's separatist east in the latest surge in violence between Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian army, authorities from both sides said Monday.

The latest casualties brought the death toll to ten over the past five days, marking the sharpest spike in the long-running conflict in recent months amid diplomatic efforts to settle it.

The Ukrainian army reported two soldiers were killed and four wounded in fighting near the government-controlled village some 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of the rebels' de facto capital of Donetsk.

Rebel authorities said one of their fighters was killed and another one wounded in the renewed clashes along the front line.

Four civilians in Gorlivka, an industrial town in one of the two separatist-held regions, were also wounded in mortar shelling, they said.

Later on Monday, Ukrainian police reported the death of a civilian man after a bullet hit him in his own household in Mariinka, a Kiev-held town just ten kilometres (six miles) west of Donetsk.

A series of periodic truce deals have helped lower the level of violence in Ukraine's east but have not fully ended bloodshed.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke by phone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two leaders "discussed the situation in Donbas", another name for the war-scarred region, the Ukrainian leader's press service said.

Poroshenko and Merkel also discussed "joint efforts for the implementation of Minsk agreements", a Western-brokered peace plan signed in 2015 but not fulfilled by neither side.

The situation has deteriorated in recent days with two Ukrainian soldiers killed in fighting on Thursday and four people, including two civilians, losing their lives on Friday.

"Last week was in many ways the worst we have seen so far this year," the mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitoring the conflict said Monday.

"In total, we recorded 7,700 ceasefire violations."

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Moscow-backed insurgency broke out in April 2014 following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms across the border to fan the flames of the conflict.

Moscow has denied the allegations despite overwhelming evidence that it has been involved in the fighting and its explicit political support for the rebels.