DONETSK: Heavy artillery and shelling rocked Ukraine’s east on Thursday as the army and pro-Russian rebels waged a fierce battle for a key airport, forcing monitors to flee and threatening all-out conflict.

The fighting came as Ukraine made renewed accusations of a Russian military build up on its border, and approved fresh troop mobilisations in the midst of a wave of violence over recent days.

A national day of mourning was also held for 13 people killed on Tuesday when a rocket exploded near a commuter bus travelling towards the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, the worst loss of civilian life since a September truce that only partially halted the violence.

The upsurge in fighting that has rocked eastern Ukraine follows the postponement of a planned peace summit between President Petro Poroshenko and the leaders of Russia, Germany and France.

Heavy fighting shook the area around the airport in the rebel bastion of Donetsk, while pro-Kremlin insurgents had earlier been accused of unleashing a massive rocket assault.

The rebels claimed to have been on the verge of taking control of the airport, but there was no independent confirmation. Ukraine’s military said in a statement on Thursday night that it was still defending the airport under heavy attack by the rebels.

A journalist in Vodiane, a few miles west of the airport and where Ukrainian forces transport their dead and wounded, saw one soldier dead and five wounded. Ukraine confirmed two soldiers had been killed.

Soldiers on walkie-talkies spoke of rebel tanks unleashing heavy fire at a wall at the airport’s new terminal.

Meanwhile a monitoring mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe attempting to reach the airport was twice forced to turn back because of heavy firing from both sides.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2015

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