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Fear as midnight airstrike hits close to Donetsk centre
by Staff Writers
Donetsk, Ukraine (AFP) Aug 06, 2014


A man gestures while standing in a bomb hole in а street after an "air strike" overnight in Donetsk, on August 6, 2014. The main rebel stronghold of Donetsk in east Ukraine was hit by an "air strike" overnight that caused no civilian casualties, local authorities said on August 6. Image courtesy AFP.

NATO chief to visit Ukraine amid Russia border tensions
Kiev (AFP) Aug 06, 2014 - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will visit Kiev Thursday, Ukraine's foreign ministry said, amid heightened tensions over allegations Russia is massing troops along its ex-Soviet neighbour's border.

The visit, at the invitation of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, is intended to discuss an upcoming meeting on NATO-Ukraine partnership, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Ukraine is not a member of the 28-nation alliance, and both sides say that Kiev joining the organisation is not on the cards.

NATO on Wednesday accused the Kremlin of bolstering its troop numbers on the Ukraine border to 20,000, from 12,000 in mid-July, creating a "dangerous situation" and stoking concerns Moscow could intervene in its neighbour by force.

"We share the concern that Russia could use the pretext of a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission as an excuse to send troops into eastern Ukraine," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.

Russia denies that it had increased the number of its troops on the border. Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenikov was quoted on Wednesday as saying by the Interfax news agency that "movements of such forces of thousands of troops and equipment is not possible in such a short time".

NATO has consistently backed up Kiev's allegations that Moscow has fomented and armed pro-Russian rebels battling government troops in east Ukraine for almost four months.

The UN says the fighting in east Ukraine has killed over 1,300 people and forced some 285,000 people to flee their homes.

Rasmussen recently ratcheted up the rhetoric over the Ukraine, saying in an interview published on Sunday that NATO would draw up new defence plans in the face of "Russia's aggression".

Russia denies deploying extra troops to Ukraine border
Moscow (AFP) Aug 06, 2014 - Russia on Wednesday denied US and NATO claims that Moscow has sharply increased the number of troops along the border with Ukraine.

"I would like to explain to Pentagon and NATO officials that movements of such forces of thousands of troops and equipment is not possible in such a short time, moreover without OSCE monitors stationed in the region noticing," Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenikov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said earlier on Wednesday that Russia has increased its presence of troops on the Ukraine border to 20,000, from 12,000 in mid-July.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has about about a dozen observers monitoring two Russian border posts, but does not monitor the entire border.

It has a larger mission stationed inside Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels are battling government forces.

The European Union and United States have accused Moscow of providing weapons and support to the rebels, a charge Moscow denies.

Konashenikov said the Russian defence ministry was considering opening social media accounts to provide the US intelligence community with "objective information about the actions of Russian military forces".

A midnight air strike near the heart of rebel-held Donetsk provided a terrifying signal for residents that the conflict between insurgents and government forces is drawing closer to their doorsteps.

Valentina Petrovna, a middle-aged woman, peered into a crater that had suddenly appeared not far from her house on Wednesday morning.

"People were already asleep. They ran out on to the street. We ran into the cellar, we didn't sleep all night," she told AFP.

"I called my brother in Russia to tell him they have started bombing here. I have already sent my grandchildren there," she added, starting to weep.

"When will it all end? What are we suffering for?"

Rebels said the strike hit the dusty street of warehouses, workshops and offices in an industrial area east of the leafy centre at 0040 (2140 GMT on Tuesday).

The explosions blew two large holes in the tarmac -- one around a metre (three foot) deep.

Nearby the force of the blast had ripped apart the entrance to a warehouse complex, as well as blown out windows and peeled off the corrugated-iron roofs of an office building and auto workshop.

Engineers in body armour were at the scene along with firefighters and emergency gas workers who were dealing with an overground pipeline damaged in the attack.

Another large crater could be seen next to a railway used to transport fuel.

Nobody was injured in what appeared to be the first air strike in the heart of the city of one million.

"They started the bombardment and a plane flew lower and there were two salvoes of missiles," said Alexander, a local welder, as he took pictures on his cell phone.

The rockets struck around seven kilometres (four miles) from the rebel headquarters in the former regional government building. The impact was heard across the city, where a 2300 curfew is in place.

AFP reporters in central Donetsk heard what appeared to be the hum of aircraft and several loud explosions.

The target was unclear, and Ukraine's military has denied any responsibility.

- The roar of planes -

An employee from one of the warehouses on the road, asking not to be named, told AFP that rebels had been based in the area recently.

But a rebel accompanying international OSCE observers as they took photographs at the scene claimed there were no insurgent bases in the area.

"We heard the roar of planes, then an explosion. I can't say what it was," the camouflaged fighter said.

Another local resident, 18-year-old Vladik, wearing a vest and shorts, said the planes "came in twice".

Asked if there were answering shots from the ground, he said: "We heard what was maybe anti-aircraft fire" from the ground.

Before this morning, he said he had only heard the sound of automatic weapons in the area.

Kiev denied it was behind the air strike, insisting that Ukraine's military does not bomb built-up areas.

The plane heard by locals was only used for communication purposes, Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Kiev's National Security and Defence Council, told reporters.

Until now, fighting has been focused on the western outskirts of the city, including a bloody battle for control of the airport in May that left its terminal building a gutted wreck and dozens of fighters dead.

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