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E. Ukraine Fighting Kills Soldiers, Civilians

Pro-Russian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko, center, surrounded by guards, smiles not far from rebel positions near the Donetsk airport in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, Jan. 15, 2015.

Fighting between Ukrainian government and separatist forces in the country's east claimed more lives Friday, as an intense battle for control of the Donetsk airport continued.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said six servicemen had been killed and 18 wounded over the preceding 24 hours, and that a civilian had been killed in a rebel strike on a military checkpoint in the town of Fashchevka in eastern Ukraine's Luhansk region.

Officials in the city of Donetsk said four civilians had been killed and one wounded after shelling sparked a warehouse fire.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Yuri Biryukov wrote on Facebook that Russia-backed separatists had launched a fierce assault on the Donetsk airport Friday morning and that the intensity of the fighting and the situation there were the worst since late September. He said one serviceman had been killed and 11 wounded in the fighting at the airport as of Friday afternoon.

The rebels have said they are on the verge of gaining full control of the Donetsk airport, but Lysenko claimed Friday that government forces still control the facility, which is almost completely destroyed after months of fighting.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has intensified in recent days. On Tuesday, 13 people traveling in a bus south of Donetsk city were killed by a rocket strike. The warring sides have blamed on each other for the attack.

On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning what it called Russia's "aggressive and expansionist policy" and "the acts of terrorism and criminal behavior" by Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a new round of peace talks between Ukraine's government and the rebels that Kyiv had hoped might take place this week failed to materialize.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that a new round of peace talks between Ukraine's government and the separatists could take place in Minsk, Belarus as soon as Friday.

However, the Interfax-Ukraine news agency on Friday quoted an unnamed source close to the so-called "contact group," which includes representatives of Ukraine, the separatists and Russia, and operates under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as saying Friday's did not take place because the two separatist leaders who signed last September's ceasefire agreement in Minsk did not show up.

Instead, the source said, the separatists sent two other officials who do not have "the authority" to negotiate.

The rebels, for their part, accused the Kyiv government of "disrupting" Friday's planned meeting.