Pro-Russian rebels close in on Donetsk airport

Pro-Russian rebels close in on Donetsk airport

Rebels in eastern Ukraine appear to be successfully closing in on the government-held airport in Donetsk, a strategic victory for the pro-Russian separatists that further undermines a shaky ceasefire in the region.

Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists in Kiev that the airport was still under control of government troops who were "brilliantly carrying out their duty" and holding ground there.

However, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying that the rebels control 90% of the airport, which has been the focus of the worst fighting in the region for weeks.

"In two, or maximum three, days the Donetsk airport will come under our control," he said.

While it was impossible to get within close range of the airport because of the ongoing fighting, an Associated Press reporter in Donetsk saw that artillery fire hitting the airport was coming from government-held positions outside the city - an indication that the airport may no longer be under Kiev's control.

The reporter also saw the bodies of three people killed after a shell exploded in a school courtyard in a residential neighbourhood near the airport.

Pro-Russian rebels close in on Donetsk airport

A local woman cries in front of a damaged school after shelling in Donetsk.

Some 70 schoolchildren were in the school at the time, according to the local authorities, although those killed and the five wounded were all adults.

Soon after the school was hit, another shell fell on a bus stop nearby. The city council of Donetsk said in a statement that six people were killed and several wounded, but those figures could not be confirmed on the ground.

In Moscow, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov continued to call on the West to look into allegations that there are mass graves in eastern Ukraine of those killed by Ukrainian troops.

"It's a terrible tragedy. It's an obvious war crime," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "We count on Western capitals not being silent about these facts."

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