Donetsk: Ukrainian armed forces mounted a major onslaught against pro-Russian separatist fighters on Sunday in an attempt to gain control over the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed earlier this month.
Reports of the intensifying unrest prompted a postponement of a trip to the site by a team of Dutch and Australian police officers that had planned to start searching for evidence and the remaining bodies.
In Washington, the State Department released satellite images which it says show that Russia has fired rockets more than seven miles (11 kilometres) into eastern Ukraine.
The images, from the US Director of National Intelligence, show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. They are said to show strikes between July 21 and July 26.
Ukraine`s National Security Council said that government troops have encircled Horlivka, a key rebel stronghold, and that there had been fighting in other cities in the east. Horlivka lies around 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk.
The armed forces "have increased assaults on territory held by pro-Russian mercenaries, destroyed checkpoints and positions and moved very close to Horlivka," the council said in a statement.
A representative of the separatist military command in Donetsk confirmed that there had been fighting in Horlivka, but said that rebel fighters were holding their positions.
Elsewhere, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Sunday that a column of Ukrainian armored personnel carriers, trucks and tanks had entered the town of Shakhtarsk, 10 miles (15 kilometers) west of the site of the Boeing 777 crash.
Shakhtarsk is a strategic town in the area. By controlling the town, the Ukrainian army would cut off vital rebel supply lines.
Local media reported fighting also taking place in the towns of Snizhne and Torez, the two nearest mid-sized towns to the crash site.
The government accused rebel forces of firing rockets Sunday on residential apartment blocks in Horlivka in what they said was an attempt to discredit the army and whip up anti-government sentiment. The separatist self-declared "Donetsk People`s Republic" has accused the army of being responsible for that and other rocket attacks in nearby cities.
The Donetsk regional government which is loyal to Kiev and based elsewhere since rebels took over the area said today in a statement that at least 13 people, including two children aged 1 and 5, were killed in fighting in Horlivka.