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Pro-Russian rebels launch rocket attack on Ukrainian market, killing 30 and injuring dozens more

The assault on the port of Mariupol follows a rejection of peace talks.

Updated 5.17pm

Ukraine Residents pass by burning houses. Source: AP/Press Association Images

PRO-KREMLIN REBELS have announced a major new offensive after Grad rocket fire killed at least 30 people in a strategic government-held Ukrainian port linking rebel territory with Russian-occupied Crimea.

The local mayor’s office said 97 people were also wounded in the city of Mariupol by rockets that smashed into a packed residential district early in the morning and then again shortly after noon.

“Obviously, everyone in the city is very scared. The rebels have already seized the airport. And now they are starting to destroy Mariupol itself,” city native Eduard told AFP.

A towering cloud of grey smoke billowed over homes and a row of high-rise apartment buildings while fire brigades scrambled to put out blazes sparked by the heavy shells.

“Today, we launched an offensive against Mariupol,” Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency quoted Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko as saying.

Ukraine Burned cars on a destroyed parking site in a residential area in Mariupol. Source: Sergey Vaganov/AP/Press Association Images

His deputy earlier denied responsibility for the civilian deaths and Zakharchenko did not refer directly to the rocket fire.

But he called the potential capture of the industrial port “the best tribute possible for all our dead.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk immediately asked the UN Security Council to censure Russia for allegedly spearheading the militants’ advance on the biggest pro-Kiev city left standing in the shattered war zone.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko vowed in a separate statement to deliver a “full victory” over the rebels.

“We are for peace but also accept the enemy’s challenge. We will defend our motherland the way real patriots do — until a full victory,” the pro-Western leader said in a statement.

Ukraine Source: AP/Press Association Images

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned in Brussels that the latest escalation “would inevitably lead to a further grave deterioration of relations between the EU and Russia.”

The southeastern Sea of Azov city of nearly 500,000 provides a land bridge between guerrilla-held regions to the east and the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea that Russia annexed from Ukraine last March.

A rebel assault on the port in August saw Kiev repel the attack at a heavy cost that prompted President Poroshenko to agree to a September 5 ceasefire.

That truce was followed by still more clashes that killed at least 1,500 people and was ultimately rejected by the rebels on Friday.

Ripping up agreement

The separatist leader of Donetsk said on Friday he was ripping up the September agreement and launching an offensive aimed at seizing eastern lands still controlled by the pro-Western authorities in Kiev.

His announcement came just a day after his men scored their most symbolic victory to date by flushing out Ukrainian troops from a long-disputed airport in Donetsk that Kiev had clung on to since May.

Western diplomats linked that advance to a new infusion of Russian troops — firmly denied by the Kremlin — designed to expand separatist holdings before the singing of a final truce and land demarcation agreement.

© – AFP 2015originally published 10.15am

Read: Bloody fight rages on as rebels claim they now control Donetsk airport >

Read: Ukraine’s former president is now on Interpol’s most wanted list >

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