Civilian Toll Mounts in Ukraine As MH17 Probe Gathers Pace

Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels left at least 10 civilians dead in eastern Ukraine today, as international experts pushed on with their grim hunt for remains at the crash site of downed flight MH17.

The deputy mayor in the besieged insurgent stronghold of Donetsk told AFP that shooting in a residential suburb had killed six civilians and injured 13, the latest victims of more than three months of civil war that has claimed at least 1,150 lives.

Local authorities in the second-largest separatist bastion of Lugansk said shelling had left three dead and eight injured, while the city council in the frontline rebel base of Gorlivka reported one dead and 16 hurt in clashes there.

Ukraine's military said its positions in the region continued to come under heavy bombardment, including shellfire allegedly from across the porous border with former Soviet master Russia.

Government forces have made major gains over the past month and say they are getting close to cutting off fighters in Donetsk from the Russian border and their comrades in Lugansk.

Kiev has promised to stamp out the insurgency in the near future but analysts warn the fighting could drag on as rebels have holed up in major cities and pledged to battle to the death.

And it is civilians in the blighted region who are bearing the brunt of the violence.

Lugansk, a city of some 420,000, is trapped in a punishing government blockade with the mayor warning of a looming "humanitarian catastrophe" as electricity has failed and water and fuel supplies been exhausted.

The United Nations says over 100,000 people have fled the fighting for other parts of Ukraine while Russia claims some 500,000 have crossed the border in search of refuge.

The latest violence came as scores of Dutch and Australian police investigators completed a third day trawling through wreckage for more unrecovered remains of the 298 people killed when the Malaysian passenger jet was blown out of the sky over separatist territory almost three weeks ago.

After days of fierce fighting prevented experts reaching the scene of the disaster, the Dutch-led probe has now bulked up to near full-strength with sniffer dogs and refrigerated ambulance vans brought in as they scramble to make up for lost time.

"We have already searched one of the five zones that we have divided the crash site into," said Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the Dutch police mission.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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