Donetsk: Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine rejected a previously signed peace deal and announced a new multi-pronged offensive against Ukrainian government troops.
The main separatist leader in the Donetsk region said the insurgents won't join further peace talks and another rebel went even further saying they will not abide by a peace deal signed in September.
Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said rebel fighters launched the new offensive to gain more territory and forestall a Ukrainian attack. He declared they will push the government troops to the border of the separatist Donetsk region and possibly even further.
"Attempts to talk about a cease-fire will no longer be undertaken by our side," Zakharchenko said.
The peace deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division line in eastern Ukraine. It has been repeatedly violated by both sides, and there has been a surge in fighting and deadly mortar attacks in the last few weeks.
The foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany agreed Wednesday to revive that division line, but fighting has continued unabated. The UN human rights agency on Friday raised its estimate of the conflict's overall death toll to nearly 5,100 since April due to the fighting.
A top NATO official agreed the rebels have pushed further west and have been beefed up with reinforcements. US Air Force Gen Philip Breedlove said air defense and electronic warfare equipment have been detected in eastern Ukraine hardware that, in the past, coincided with the incursion of Russian troops into Ukraine.
Russia insists that it does not support the rebels, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim.
A pro-Russian insurgency flared up in April in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, was hit this week with mortar attacks and fighting over its war-wrecked airport that killed at least 30 people.
The tentative peace deal forged this week in Berlin concluded with an agreement to uphold a demarcation line defined in September.