Europe

Ukraine crisis: Red Cross condemns Donetsk shelling

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Media captionThere are fears the fragile four-week-old truce may break down completely

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has condemned indiscriminate shelling in east Ukraine after a Red Cross employee was killed.

Swiss citizen Laurent DuPasquier, 38, died when a shell landed near ICRC offices in the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Thursday.

He was one of several casualties in the city, ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart said in a statement.

The rebels and the government blamed each other for the shelling.

Mortar shells landed in central Donetsk early on Friday, the BBC's Dina Newman reports from a hotel in the city centre.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement accused the Ukrainian government of "rushing to deny all responsibility" for the ICRC worker's death.

"The shelling came from positions held by the Ukrainian security forces," the ministry said.

Pro-Russian separatist forces launched an assault this week aimed at ejecting Ukrainian troops from the city's heavily damaged airport.

A Ukrainian military spokesman in Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, said Russian tanks and rockets were helping the rebel bombardment of the airport area on Friday. He said Russian military drones were also active in the area.

The two sides have accused each other of violations since a ceasefire was called in the region on 5 September.

One of the pro-Russian separatist leaders in Donetsk, Andrei Purgin, told the BBC that Russian officers were in the city acting as "mediators".

"The warring parties cannot talk without mediators, so please see the Russian officers in this capacity, they are not taking sides in the conflict," he told the BBC.

Mr Purgin has adopted the title of "deputy prime minister" in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

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Image caption A Red Cross vehicle stands near the damaged offices of the ICRC in Donetsk

More than 3,500 people have been killed in the east Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since the conflict erupted between the heavily armed separatists and the new Kiev government in April.

The Kiev authorities and Western governments accuse Russia of helping the rebels with soldiers and heavy weapons. Russia denies sending in regular forces, calling any Russian soldiers there "volunteers".

'Deeply distressed'

Mr DuPasquier, who worked as an administrator at the ICRC offices, had been in Ukraine for six weeks when he was killed.

Other ICRC staff, including about 20 Ukrainian and international employees based in Donetsk, were "in safety" following the attack, Mr Stillhart said in the statement on Thursday.

"Indiscriminate shelling of residential areas is unacceptable and violates international humanitarian law," he said.

The office is located in a three-storey building less than 1km from the state security headquarters, which has been occupied by the separatists along with other strategic points in the city since April.

It appears Mr DuPasquier was killed by the blast in the street.

ICRC spokesman Ewan Watson told Reuters news agency: "We're deeply distressed by this loss."

According to AFP news agency, rockets also slammed into a 14-storey central shopping centre shortly before 18:00 (15:00 GMT) on Thursday.

The city was long under siege by government troops but recent rebel successes loosened their encirclement.

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