By Anton Zverev
DONETSK, Ukraine, July 21 (Reuters) - Fighting broke out near the railway station at the heart of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk on Monday in what separatists said was an attempt by government forces to seize back the east Ukrainian city.
The government in Kiev denied sending the regular army into the center of Donetsk, which the separatists captured in April, but said small "self-organized" pro-Ukrainian groups were fighting the pro-Russian rebels in the city.
Five people were killed and 12 wounded in clashes near the railway station and close to the airport outside Donetsk, local officials said in the industrial city that was home to about 1 million people before many fled the fighting in the region.
Four days after a Malaysian airliner was brought down about 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, rebels are jumpy in Donetsk, one of two cities they still hold after being ousted from several towns by the government forces this month.
When a rebel leader reported shooting at the railway station, dozens jumped into minibuses to join the fray, and artillery fire sent plumes of smoke skywards.
But almost as quickly as the shelling started, it eased, leaving a control tower at the railway station with shattered windows. By late afternoon, local authorities said the train service was disrupted but still running.
A Reuters witness could hear gunfire in the region.
An electricity substation was partially destroyed, and people with suitcases were leaving the area.
"It is dangerous near the railway station!" the Donetsk city council said in a statement on its website after the shooting began, asking residents in the area to stay indoors.
It said a nine-story house had been damaged in the shelling and that transport had been halted in the area.
"In the morning there were explosions. People are extremely worried," said a local resident who gave her name as Natalya.
NO ARMY ACTION NEAR CRASH SITE
Donetsk is central to the rebel uprising against rule by Kiev, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to retake the city as part of what his administration calls an "anti-terrorist operation" against the separatists.
He has, however, instructed the army not to fight within a 40 km (25 mile) diameter of the site where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 came down on Thursday, killing all 298 people on board. But that does not cover Donetsk.
A statement from the headquarters of the "anti-terrorist operation" said the army had taken control of a suburb of Donetsk, and the president said soldiers were "freeing" the village of Dzerzhinsk, about 60 km north of Donetsk.
Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said work was under way around Donetsk on "clearing approaches to the city, on destroying checkpoints of the terrorists".
"If there are explosions in the middle of the city, then it is not Ukrainian soldiers," he told a news conference.
"We have strict orders not to use air strikes and artillery in the city. If there is fighting in the city, we have information that there is a small self-organized group who are fighting with the terrorists."
The pro-Western authorities in Kiev accuse the rebel fighters of shooting down the airliner. The separatists deny they are to blame.
The downing of the airliner has intensified calls for the fighting to end in eastern Ukraine. (Reporting by Anton Zverev; Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Will Waterman)
BEFORE YOU GO
07/25/2014 11:29 PM EDT
Document: EU Extends Russia Sanctions
A document shows that EU sanctions ar targeting Russian businesses, the AP reports:
A European Union document shows that among those targeted by the EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban are Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security.
Also targeted is Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB service that oversees international operations and intelligence activity.
07/25/2014 5:21 PM EDT
AP Journalists Saw Rebels With BUK Missiles Hours Before MH17 Crashed
Associated Press journalists in Ukraine saw a BUK missile system -- the type that the US says downed Flight MH17 -- in rebel hands just hours before the plane was shot down, the news agency says in detailed account of the day's events. AP says that while the rebels officially deny responsibility, "the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official." Further, one rebel official told AP that they were behind the plane tragedy.
More from the AP story:
A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.
The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.
Read the full account here.
07/25/2014 2:59 PM EDT
White House: Russia 'Culpable' For Downed Jet
In a briefing on Friday, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there has been a "steady flow" of weapons from Russia into Ukraine, and emphasized the position that Russia played a role in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch reports.
Russia 'culpable' for Malaysia Air jet downed in Ukraine: White House http://t.co/bJR9bYh7js— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch) July 25, 2014
The Pentagon said on Friday that the transfer of missile systems from Russia to separatists in Ukraine appeared to be imminent. On Thursday, the U.S. claimed that Russia had fired on Ukrainian military positions.
07/25/2014 1:54 PM EDT
Ukrainian Security Release Tape Of Rebels Allegedly Discussing MH17
Ukraine's security service, SBU, on Friday released a recording it said was of a phone call between pro-Russian separatists discussing a plane overhead, minutes before the Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over east Ukraine. “I see… Roger... Report it upstairs,” the rebel commander says, according to a translation.
Writing for Mashable, Christopher Miller notes that the recording has not been authenticated and the commander "stops short of giving the order to shoot down Flight 17," however the implication is clearly to build a case that the rebels shot down the plane.
07/25/2014 1:14 PM EDT
Russia Accuses U.S. Of 'Smear Campaign' Over Ukraine
Responding to U.S. officials assertion that Russia was firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions across the border, Russia on Friday countered by calling the claim a baseless "smear campaign,"AFP reports.
A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said, "Due to the smear campaign against us that the US Administration has begun... we reject the unfounded public insinuations that US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," adding that Harf has used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches," to influence perceptions of Russia. The statement refuted the U.S. State Departments claim on Russia targeting Ukraine military, saying "There are no facts or specifics about these falsehoods."
More from AFP.
-- Andrew Hart
07/25/2014 1:06 PM EDT
U.S. Ambassador: 15,000 Russian Troops At Border
#BREAKING: More than 15,000 Russian troops amassed along border with Ukraine: U.S. ambassador to NATO— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 25, 2014
07/25/2014 12:58 PM EDT
More On The Remarks Out Of The Pentagon
The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy caliber multiple launch rocket systems from
Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent, with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over "potentially today."
"We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple launch rocket systems in the very near future," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range.
Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and "potentially today."
"We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment," he said.
07/25/2014 12:45 PM EDT
Pentagon Says Russia Is Readying Weapons For Transfer To Ukraine Rebels
Pentagon: Russia readying powerful weapons for rebels in Ukraine, transfer could happen any time. http://t.co/xZnfkBUWSV— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) July 25, 2014
07/25/2014 11:34 AM EDT
Australia To Send 100 Additional Police and Personnel To Secure Crash Site
(Reuters) - Australia will send 100 additional police and some defense force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, some of whom will be armed, will join a contingent of 90 AFP officers already in London waiting for a deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to be approved by Ukraine's parliament.
"This is a humanitarian mission, with a clear and simple objective," Abbott told reporters. "I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks."
Read the full story here.
07/25/2014 11:03 AM EDT
Russian Newspaper Runs Front Page Apology For MH17
A leading Russian newspaper has issued an apology on its front page, asking for forgiveness from the people of the Netherlands who lost their loved ones in the Malaysian Airlines plane crash. The front page of Novaya Gazeta on Friday featured the words "Vergeef ons, Nederlands" (Forgive Us, Netherlands) in bold above a heartbreaking image of the line of hearses carrying MH17 victim's bodies.
Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.