Desperate pro-Russian fighters yesterday retreated to the city of Donetsk -
with a population of almost one million - amid fears of new bloodshed in a violent last stand against advancing Ukrainian troops.
Kiev commanders vowed to set up total blockade of the city, and also neighbouring Luhansk, another stronghold of separatists who want to be ruled by the Kremlin, forcing them to lay down their arms.
Rebels blew up three bridges on key routes into Donetsk, the country’s most important industrial hub, in a bid to prevent access for Ukraine’s armed forces which have made dramatic gains at the expense of rebels in recent days.
Ukrainian government soldiers look at wrecked tanks and armored personnel carriers left by pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk
A car catches fire as a result of a mortar attack in Luhansk, Ukraine
Kiev commanders vowed to set up total blockade of the city, and also neighbouring Luhansk, another stronghold of separatists who want to be ruled by the Kremlin, forcing them to lay down their arms
A Ukrainian government army's APC, right, stands near a destroyed pro-Russian APC near the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine
A car travels past a destroyed pro-Russian APC near the city of Slovyansk. Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko has called the capture of the Pro-Russian separatist stronghold of Slovyansk a 'turning point' in the fight for control of the country's east
Mines lay near a destroyed pro-Russian APC. Earlier yesterday the Ukrainian army captured the eastern cities of Artemivsk and Druzhkivka from pro-Russian separatists
Ammunition and mines lie near a destroyed vehicle just outside Slaviansk today, as Ukrainian army forces took control of the city after it was abandoned by separatist militants over the weekend
Ukrainian troops walk near destroyed military vehicles just outside Slaviansk, which has been heavily bombarded
Small patrols of separatist militia were on the streets last night but thousands of fighters - armed with scores of anti-aircraft guns and armoured vehicles of Russian origin - were holed up, out of sight.
Earlier yesterday the Ukrainian army captured the eastern cities of Artemivsk and Druzhkivka from pro-Russian separatists.
Separatists deny they are on the point of surrender, claiming they made a tactical retreat and will fight to the end, a nightmare prospect for Donetsk, a city founded in 1869 as a mining centre in the Donbass coalfield by Welsh businessman John Hughes.
Fearing an imminent bloody battle, many residents have left the city, and others were following last night while many businesses have shut down.
Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council deputy head Mykhailo Koval warned soldiers would impose a 'full blockade' of both Donetsk and Lugansk -- both capitals of self-styled 'people’s republics'.
Koval vowed 'measures that will force the separatists, the bandits to lay down their arms'.
But with over 500 already dead in the conflict, there are fears of more large scale bloodshed if Ukrainian forces use their military superiority in Donetsk.
People walk under a destroyed railway bridge over a main road near the village of Novobakhmutivka that leads into the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk, in a picture sent from the warzone today
The T-54 Soviet-era tank is removed from an open-air museum in Donetsk today
A bus inches its way through the gap left by the collapsed bridge, which blocks a key route to the city
Many residents are reportedly leaving Donetsk after rebels vowed to defend the city against government forces
Cars queue to drive under the destroyed railway bridge, on which a wrecked train is delicately balanced
Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, based in the city and worth £6.5 billion, pleaded: 'Donetsk must not be bombed. Donbass must not be bombed. Cities, towns and infrastructure must not be destroyed.'
He urged new Kiev president Petro Poroshenko: 'We must avoid suffering and deaths of peaceful people.'
Threatened by harsh new Western sanctions, Vladimir Putin has so far resisted sending in troops he has stationed in positions close to the border.
Separatist leader Denis Pushilin made an unverified claim that his men had killed “tens” of Ukrainian soldiers in the eastern coal mining region of Saur-Mogila, pledging this was a turning point.
'After massacring the fascists at Saur-Mogila, I understood the words of one of my colleagues: we abandoned Slavyansk to take Kiev,' he boasted.
But Poroshenko warned: 'My order is now in effect - tighten the ring around the terrorists. Continue the operation to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk regions.'
Recent days have seen Ukrainian forces make significant gains, retaking Slavyansk and other key towns from separatist hands.
Three female rebel snipers surrendered, say Kiev commanders.
But Russia yesterday accused the Ukrainians of using banned cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine.
'This irresponsible policy of the Ukrainian authorities and their Western sponsors is only leading to new victims and the civilian population’s sufferings,' said a statement.
Rebels were shelling Luhansk with Grad multiple rocket launchers, said Ukrainian media reports.
Ukraine’s secret service has launched an investigation into senior Vladimir Putin aide Sergei Glazyev, accusing him of planning 'military operations' and 'helping terrorists'.
The adviser hit back, claiming the SBU intelligence service 'plays the same role as Gestapo did in Nazi Germany'.
At a rally in the Donetsk's central square yesterday, pro-Russian commander, a Muscovite using the name Igor Strelkov, told thousands of supporters that his men would fight for the city, which was 'much easier to defend than little Slaviansk'.
Businesses have closed down and thousands of residents are believed to have fled as the fighters fortify positions and buildings in the city, which they have held for the past few months.
But the government government pressed what it clearly saw as its advantage, announcing it had carried out an air strike against rebel fighters who had attacked the airport in Luhansk, another eastern city, on Sunday.
It accused separatists in the area of opening fire in populated areas under the guise of being government forces.
'They use flags of military paratroopers, Ukrainianian state flags and thus fool the population,' said military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky.
Separatists prepare to steal a tank from the museum using a crane
Tanks very much: The pro-Russian militants raise the T-54 on to a large flat-bed truck
Wave goodbye: The tank is loaded and the pro-Russian troops prepare to transport it to where they will dig in and fight the incoming Ukrainian forces
Slaviansk residents talk to Ukrainian troops on patrol in the city, which had been a rebel stronghold for months
The Defence Ministry said early this morning that separatists had launched 10 attacks on government posts and army positions in the previous 24 hours with mortars and small arms.
It gave no details of the incidents or casualties, but said troops had returned fire: 'The terrorists were given a fitting reply.'
The months-old conflict has already cost the lives of more than 200 Ukrainian troops, as well as hundreds of civilians and rebel fighters.
Separatist rebellions erupted in mainly Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine in April following the overthrow of a pro-Russian president in Kiev in February.
It appeared that the militants had been encouraged to take action after Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula in March - leading to speculation that the Kremlin may have designs on other parts of the country.
Rebels have since then been barricaded into government buildings in Donetsk, which they declared capital of an independent 'people's republic', but Slaviansk, with 120,000 people, was their most symbolic stronghold.
Strelkov, the self-styled rebel defence minister, whose real name is Igor Girkin, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying 80-90 per cent of his men had escaped from Slaviansk.
They were now organising the active defence of Donetsk.
A demonstrator waves a Soviet flag during a rally of pro-Russia supporters in Lenin Square in Donetsk yesterday after militants retreating from Slavianks poured into the eastern Ukrainian city and pledged to defend it
A demonstrator waves the flag of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk during the rally
Protesters sit beneath a statue of Lenin during a protest against Ukrainian military action in Donetsk
Many in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east believe the new government is in bed with fascist elements
Recapturing Slaviansk has given Ukrainian forces by far their clearest victory after months of patchy performance against the heavily-armed militants, many of whom are Russians who have crossed the border to fight.
Moscow denies supporting them.
Poroshenko ordered the assault on Slaviansk after abandoning a unilateral ceasefire last week, arguing that the rebels had refused to abide by the truce.
'My order is now in effect - tighten the ring around the terrorists,' Poroshenko tweeted yesterday. 'Continue the operation to liberate Donetsk and Luhansk regions,' he said.
He said the victory in Slaviansk marked the beginning of a turning point in the conflict, though he cautioned that rebels would now regroup and 'further tests' lay ahead.
A dead body lies on the ground after a Ukrainian forces shelling attack yesterday in Luhansk
Smokje fills the sky as a firefighter peers at a military vehicle which has been riddled with bullets in Luhansk
A car hit by shelling continues to burn in a deserted street in Luhansk, where strikes continued today
Smoke rises across the rooftops of Luhansk during a Ukrainian shelling attack yesterday
In Slaviansk, around 200 residents lined up in the city's central square on Sunday for meat, potatoes, onions and bread distributed by troops.
'Everything is different now. Tonight is the first night with no shelling,' said Mikhail Martynenko, 58, a guard at a local market near Slaviansk.
'People are in a better mood and there are more people on the streets. Everyone was afraid. They had no idea when another mortar would come flying.'
Hamas militants in Gaza have fired 'dozens' of rockets into southern Israel after six of its men died in an Israeli airstrike
The bombardment was confirmed by the Israeli army which said militants had launched 'a few dozen rockets' within a short period of time.
The exchange of fire comes amid mounting tension around the Palestinian enclave following the killing of a Palestinian teenager, in what is widely believed to be a revenge attack for the earlier kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths by suspected Hamas militants.
Smoke billows from four targets in the town of Rafah, southern Gaza, following air strikes by the Israeli airforce earlier today
The Israeli airforce said it carried out the strikes after Hamas militants launched 'dozens' of rockets (pictured) at the city of Beersheva, 25 miles from Gaza
Earlier in the day six Hamas men were killed after a suspected Israeli airstrike hit a tunnel they were in - though Israel denies this, saying instead that explosive the men were handling detonated
The fresh exchange of fire comes as Israel builds up tanks along the border after the cabinet approved a stronger stance against Islamic group Hamas
At least four rockets were intercepted over Netivot by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, while another 16 struck the area around the southern city of Beersheva, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Gaza, and which is home to 200,000 people, the army said.
Media reports put the number of rockets at around 40, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. Sirens sounded in several locations south of Tel Aviv, public radio said.
The rocket fire was claimed by Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in a statement. It said: 'Al-Qassam fired dozens of rockets on Netivot and Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ofakim in response to the Zionist aggression.'
Shortly afterwards, the Israeli air force hit more than 30 targets near southern city of Rafah in an area close to the Israeli border which is riddled with tunnels.
Ready to go: A soldier driving an APC takes position on the Israeli side of the border in preparation for what could be an attack on Gaza
Massing: The Israeli army has begun building up forces on the border with Gaza today, including tanks, after the cabinet approved a stronger stance against the Islamists
Both barrels: The Israeli military say militants have now fired a total of 150 missiles across the border in recent weeks as tensions in the region escalate
Of the rockets fired by Hamas today, four were taken out by the 'Iron Dome' defence battery (pictured) designed to intercept incoming rockets
Israel's Channel 1 television said the attacks came after the security cabinet gave the military a green light to 'toughen the response to Hamas.'
The channel also showed footage of dozens of tanks massing near the border with Gaza, preparing for a possible offensive against the enclave.
'With this barrage of rockets, Hamas has crossed the red line and unfortunately, it will pay for it,' senior officials told Israel's Channel 10 television.
The rocket fire came several hours after Israel staged around 16 air strikes on targets across Gaza, following a night in which warplanes had attacked 14 more targets, killing at least three militants.
Meanwhile in Palestine funerals have today been taking place for militants who were killed by a suspected air strike from Israeli forces
Hamas said it fired rockets into Israel in response to 'Zionist aggression', though there were no immediate reports of casualties from the blasts
Relatives of Fatah militant Marwan Sleem, who was killed in overnight airstrikes by Israel, grieve while they watch mourners carry his body out of the family house during his funeral in Gaza
Tensions in the region have escalated sharply in recent days after a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was burned to death in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of three Israeli teenagers two days before
Another five Hamas militants died and one was left in critical condition when a tunnel collapsed near the southern city of Rafah today, with the movement blaming it on an Israeli air strike.
But the Israeli army denied hitting the area where the tunnel was, with a spokesman describing it as a work accident by militants handling explosives.
There was no immediate word on casualties or damage in Israel from the latest rocket attacks.
The news comes as earlier today it was reported that three of the six Jewish suspects arrested over the murder of a Palestinian teenager have confessed.
Citing police, Israeli media said the trio had been suspected of involvement in the abduction and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, whose body was found burned in a Jerusalem forest on July 2.
Back home: Tarek Abu Khdeir (right) and his family. Tarek, 15, was arrested and beaten up by Israeli security forces while he was watching clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces in East Jerusalem
Palestinian-American teenager Tariq Abu Khdeir is greeted by his mother after his release from jail in Jerusalem, where he was arrested on Thursday during clashes with Israeli police sparked by the murder of his cousin
Savage: Tariq is pictured before and being arrested by ISraeli police during a protest over his cousin's death by suspected Israeli extremists
An anonymous security source was quoted as saying: 'Three out of six suspects in custody have confessed to the murder and burning of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and performed a re-enactment of the crime in front of officers.'
Palestinian officials say preliminary post mortem results show his lungs contained smoke, meaning he was alive and breathing while he was set alight.
Investigators said they believed the crime had been carried out for 'nationalistic motives' - meaning that Mohammed had been targeted because he was Palestinian.
It is the closest Israeli officials have come yet to confirming the belief of the teenager's family that he had been killed in revenge for the murder of three Israeli youths, whose bodies had been found in the West Bank two days earlier.
Members of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas are suspected to have committed those murders.
Tariq, the 15-year-old cousin of murdered Mohammed Abu Khdeir is surrounded by Israeli police and officials on his way to appear at Jerusalem magistrates court
News cameras compete to catch a glimpse of Tariq as he is escorted by Israeli security at the Jerusalem court
Police stand guard as a a prison van arrives at the Magistrate's Court in Petah Tikva containing some of the suspects arrested in connection with the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir on Wednesday
As well as the five militants killed in the tunnel collapse, two more from a different group were also killed in a separate strike. The men were involved in rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities, the Israeli military said.
Israel said it carried out airstrikes on at least '14 terror sites' including 'concealed rocket launchers' in Gaza overnight in retaliation to a recent spike in attacks from Gaza.
About a dozen rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza overnight the military said. One injured a soldier. Gaza militants fired 25 rockets at Israel on Sunday the military said.
Meanwhile Tariq Abu Khdier, 15, the cousin of murdered Abu Khdier, who was badly beaten before being arrested by Israeli forces, was pictured relaxing with his family back home. He was arrested on Thursday when protests over the murder of his cousin turned into a street battle.
It followed days of growing suspicion that Wednesday's murder was carried out by extremist Jews in revenge for last month's abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank.
Their bodies were found last week, and Mohammed was killed just hours after their funeral. His family said news of the arrests brought them little joy.
This photo of Tariq was taken in a hospital after he was beaten and arrested by the Israeli police during clashes sparked by the murder Thursday of his cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem, Saturday, July 5, 2014
'I don't have any peace in my heart, even if they captured who they say killed my son,' said his mother Suhair. 'They're only going to ask them questions and then release them. What's the point?'
'They need to treat them the way they treat us. They need to demolish their homes and round them up, the way they do it to our children,' she added.
His father, Hussein, said the family still had not been officially informed of any arrests. 'Even if they rounded up all of Israel, they will not bring my son back,' he said.
Mohammed's killing sparked four days of violent protests that began in Jerusalem and spread to Israeli Arab communities across the north of the country.
Video taken during the protests showed a figure said to be Tariq being repeatedly beaten in the face by two Israeli policemen who were kneeling on his chest.
An Israeli police spokeswoman claimed the teenager had resisted arrest and attacked police officers.
Tariq's release today came after Israeli police had asked a court for permission to continue holding him. Instead the court ordered him to be held at home in Beit Hanina, east Jerusalem.
Tariq's mother told Sky News that Israeli police had tried to prevent her from seeing her son while he was in hospital. Sohair Abu Khdeir said when she finally saw him he was shackled to the bed.
Shortly after Tariq's arrest, footage emerged seeming to show Israeli police savagely beating the 15-year-old during protests over his cousin's death
The footage shows police stamping, kicking and punching a boy laying on the floor before picking up his semi-conscious body and dragging it away
She said the officer standing guard by the room where he was recovering wouldn't let her in until after her husband demanded they be let in.
'And then he finally said 'you can go in, just don't touch him, don't speak to him, don't get near him',' said Mrs Abu Khdeir. 'He was handcuffed. His ankles were handcuffed to the bed.'
Mobile phone video footage quickly surfaced after Tariq's arrest which was said to show him being brutally beaten by Israeli police.
Subsequent photos of the boy showed him with two black eyes and with his mouth badly swollen, and sparked a U.S. State Department response saying it was 'deeply troubled' by reports of his treatment.
'We are calling for a speedy, transparent and credible investigation and full accountability for any excessive use of force,' State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
An Israeli police spokeswoman insisted that Tariq was arrested with a slingshot in his possession used to hurl stones at police, along with six other protesters, including some armed with knives.
She added that several officers were hurt in that specific protest, one of many that day. Tariq's father said he witnessed his son's arrest and insisted the boy was not involved in the violence.
His mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, said she did recognise her son afer the attack. 'I couldn't believe it,' she told ABC News. 'When I finally looked over at him, it was a feeling that I've never felt before in my life.'#
Grief stricken: Thousands of people chanting and waving Palestinian flags greeted the body partially wrapped in a traditional headscarf as it arrived by ambulance at a mosque before burial. Mourners carried the body on a stretcher through the thick crowd
Outrage: News of his death prompted outrage in his east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shuafat
Outpouring: The boy's body was transferred to an open casket as it was paraded through the streets
Violent: Clashes broke out between Israeli police and Palestinian youths during the noon Ramadan prayer in Ras Al Amud neighbourhood ahead of the boy's funeral ceremony
Police say Tariq was part of a gang of masked youths and that they can't be sure the person in the video is him.
'This is a video edited and biased that does not represent the events,' said Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. 'Obviously incidents took place before or after that the suspects were involved in.'
The incident was part of many protests that have followed the murder of Tariq's cousin Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
Family say the teen was abducted by right-wing Israeli Jews seeking revenge for the murder of three Israeli teens kidnapped last month in the West Bank.
Palestinian Attorney General Abdelghani al-Owaiwi said initial post-mortem results showed Mohammed, who was snatched as he made his way to his local mosque, had suffered burns on '90 percent of his body'.
'The results show he was breathing while on fire and died from burns and their consequences,' Mr al-Owaiwi said.
Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinian protesters in the Jerusalem neighbourhood where Muhammed lived. He was buried in east Jerusalem on Friday after the midday prayers.
Thousands of people chanting and waving Palestinian flags greeted the body partially wrapped in a traditional headscarf as it arrived by ambulance at a mosque before burial. Mourners carried the body on a stretcher through the thick crowd.
Sticks and stones: Violent protests over the killing spread through East Jerusalem that saw rioters throw stones at police, who returned fire with stun grenades
Defiant: A masked mourner holds the national flag in front of a giant poster of Mohammed Abu Khder during his funeral
Fury: A female Hamas supporter holds up a rifle during a protest against the kidnapping and killing on the Gaza Strip
Anger: Thousands of flag-waving Palestinians, some firing weapons into the air, took part in the emotionally-charged east Jerusalem funeral of a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khder, 16, believed murdered by Israelis
Beefed up security: Police had earlier beefed up security in and around Jerusalem. Extra precautions were taken as the funeral coincides with the first Friday prayer services of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan
High alert: A Palestinian woman makes her way through the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank, to reach the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City for traditional Friday prayers
Tightened security: Security in the West Bank was heightened amid fears of reprisal attacks
Flare up: Israeli commanders meanwhile waited to see if a series of statements by Israeli leaders promising to 'meet quiet with quiet' would bring a halt to the latest flare-up of violence on the Gaza border
Violence: Angry young Palestinians clash with Israeli police following the murder of Arab teenager Mohammed Abu Khdair, in what is being investigated as a revenge attack for the death of three Jewish schoolboys
Grief: Relatives of Mohammed Abu Khudair mourn in Shuafat - an Arab suburb of Jerusalem - following the discovery of his beaten and charred body body in nearby woodland yesterday
It came as CCTV footage allegedly showing the teen being approached by a group of men as he sat outside a shop near his home before being bundled into a car was released by his family.
Police had earlier beefed up security in and around Jerusalem. Extra precautions were taken as the funeral coincided with the first Friday prayer services of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians in Ras al-Amud and Wadi Joz in the eastern sector of the city. The day had been calm before Friday prayers, police said, following two days of protests since the boy's death.
The burned body of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was found on Wednesday in a forest after he was seized near his home in east Jerusalem.
News of his death prompted outrage in his east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Shuafat. Protesters clashed with police for two days, throwing rocks and firebombs while security forces responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Conflict: Light bombs are seen following an Israel airstrike over Gaza City in the early hours of this morning. The raids are in response to rockets fired from the area - one of which struck a house in southern Israel
Tragedy: The bodies of Naftali Frenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship (pictured), and two other Israeli teenagers were found on Monday
Gil-Ad Shaer, 16, was among the Israeli teenagers killed. It is thought the death of Mohammed Abu Khdier could have been in retaliation for their deaths
Eyal Yifrah, 19, whose bodies were found on Monday
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to calm the situation, condemning Abu Khdeir's killing and vowing to find the attackers.
'We don't know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime whoever they may be,' Netanyahu said in a speech celebrating U.S. Independence Day at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. 'Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism, they have no place in our democracy.'
Already tense Israeli-Palestinian relations increased after three Israeli teenagers, one of which had American citizenship, were abducted in the West Bank on June 12, sparking a massive manhunt that ended with the discovery of their bodies early this week.
Israel blamed Hamas for the abductions. Hamas, which has abducted Israelis before, denied responsibility for it.