The rocket attacks on Saturday on public places in the Ukraine city of Mariupol that killed 30 people drew rebuke from Secretary of State John Kerry and other world leaders who says the strikes were executed by Russian-backed separatists.
“I join my European counterparts in condemning in the strongest terms today’s horrific assault by Russia-backed separatists on civilian neighborhoods,” Kerry said.
He also suggests more international economic sanctions on Russian if Moscow continues to arm and finance the separatist, or anti-government forces, in Ukraine, in violation of a peace deal between the countries reached last year.
“We call on Russia to end its support for separatists immediately, close the international border with Ukraine and withdraw all weapons, fighters and financial backing,” Kerry also said in a statement. “Otherwise, U.S. and international pressure on Russia and its proxies will only increase.”
On Saturday, rocket fire slammed into a market, two schools and homes in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, about 25 kilometers outside of the ceasefire line.
Ukraine’s top rebel leader said an offensive had begun on the strategically important port.
Ukraine’s president called an emergency meeting of his military officials and cut short a trip to Saudi Arabia to rush back to coordinate the government’s response.
The rocket attacks came a day after the rebels rejected a peace deal and announced they were going on a multi-prong offensive against the government in Kiev to vastly increase their territory. The rebel stance has upended European attempts to mediate an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which the U.N. says has killed nearly 5,100 people since April.
Mariupol, which lies on the Azov Sea, is the major city between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Heavy fighting in the region in the fall raised fears that Russian-backed separatist forces would try to take over the government-held city to establish a land link between Russia and Crimea.
The RIA Novosti news agency cited Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko as saying Saturday that an offensive had begun on Mariupol. He spoke as he laid a wreath where at least eight civilians died when a bus stop was shelled in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine.
Rebel forces have positions within 10 kilometers (six miles) from Mariupol’s eastern outskirts.