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East Ukrainian rebels say shelling heavy around Donetsk stronghold

DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian separatists said on Thursday heavy shelling hit several neighborhoods around the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine where government forces are trying to tighten their grip.

A man rides a bicycle near a bus riddled with bullet holes at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Donetsk, August 13, 2014. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Separatist Internet news outlet Novorossiya said Ukrainian forces hit targets in the Leninsky region of Donetsk and had struck regions to the east and southwest of the city in previous days.

The news outlet said the areas hardest hit were Makiyivka’s Hirnitsky neighborhood as well as areas between Donetsk and Dokuchaevsk which lies south of the city.

There was no information on casualties. The United Nations on Wednesday put the overall death toll among Ukrainian forces, rebels and civilians at more than 2,000 since the beginning of the conflict in April when separatists seized state buildings across eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have been slowly encircling Donetsk, the regional hub with a peace-time population of nearly a million.

A Reuters reporter had heard several volleys of artillery there late on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A Russian aid convoy, which has aroused Kiev suspicions of a possible covert military action, was snaking its way through southern Russia, apparently heading to Rostov-on-Don, a Reuters witness said.

Rostov-on-Don is about 60 km (37 miles) from the Ukrainian border, parts of which are under rebel control on the Ukrainian side.

The pro-Western Ukrainian government and its Western allies accuse Moscow of arming the separatists who have set up ‘people’s republics’ in Ukraine and say they want to join Russia. Moscow, while voicing support for the rebels, has denied it is arming them.

The Ukrainian government on Wednesday denounced the dispatch of the Russian convoy of 280 trucks as an act of “cynicism” and is insisting it be subject to tight controls and international supervision across the border into Ukraine.

Reporting by Thomas Grove; Additional reporting by Dmitry Madorsky near Rostov-on-Don; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Louise Ireland