Shelling kills 2 in eastern Ukraine

Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko rejects Ukrainian parliament laws planning for temporary self rule

DONETSK, Ukraine – Shelling in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk killed two people Wednesday and wounded three others, municipal authorities said.

The city council of Donetsk confirmed that shells had hit a neighbourhood in the north of the city, where fighting centred on the government-controlled airport has caught many residential neighbourhoods in the crossfire.

An AP reporter at the scene saw the remains of what appeared to be a Grad rocket in the burned-out building. There was one body visible at the scene.

Despite the cease-fire and a law passed by the Ukrainian parliament Tuesday granting greater autonomy to rebel-held parts of the east, civilian casualties have continued to rise, adding to the estimated 3,000 people killed.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian parliament passed two laws that would grant temporary self-rule to the rebellious regions, as well as amnesty for many rebel fighters. But while the rebels’ preliminary response to those bills was unusually positive, top rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko was quoted by Interfax news agency on Wednesday as saying that he would not accept key aspects of them.

The laws, which allow for three years of self-rule and grant amnesty to rebels not accused of serious crimes, call for local elections to be held in the region in December. But Zakharchenko said that the Donetsk rebels “will decide ourselves when and what kind of elections we will have.”

“We will not have any elections organized by Ukraine,” he told Interfax.

That could undermine peace talks that are underway in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, between Ukraine, Russia and the Russia-backed rebels, to bring an end to the conflict. Zakharchenko said he would not travel to Minsk for an upcoming session of the peace talks, which have been overseen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, however, praised the Ukrainian laws Wednesday as a “step in the right direction.”

The legislation “creates the foundation for launching a substantive constitutional process in Ukraine, including the start of a dialogue intended to help national reconciliation and accord in the country,” the ministry said in a statement published online Wednesday.

Ukraine and the West have repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the separatists with personnel, arms, and expertise. Moscow denies that.