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Kiev (AFP) — Ukraine’s largest rebel-controlled city of Donetsk was rocked by shelling Wednesday as 10 people were killed, some of them teachers and parents showing up for the first day of school.

Terrified children were forced to shelter in the basement as the attacks yielded the highest daily civilian toll since a tenuous ceasefire was struck between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists last month.

Since then there have been clashes at several flashpoints around the region, with both sides blaming the other for violating the agreement that commits both to withdrawing weapons and establishing a buffer zone.

The United States has decried the violence while the European Union decided Tuesday to keep Russian sanctions in place, maintaining pressure on Moscow in what has become the worst East-West standoff since the Cold War.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso also warned Russian President Vladimir Putin against introducing any new trade barriers against Kiev in a letter to the Russian leader.

The pro-Kiev regional government of Donetsk, which is now based in the government-controlled city of Mariupol, accused pro-Russian separatists of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” of shelling the school.

“The Donetsk People’s Republic used rocket launchers to shoot at a school… the shell exploded five meters away from the building,” the regional administration said in a statement.

Four adults were killed, it said.

Russian media and separatist websites showed footage of rebels launching attacks from positions in apartment buildings near Donetsk airport, which is still controlled by government troops. It lies about four kilometers (2.5 miles) from the school.

A source in Donetsk city hall told AFP that the strike happened right after the school’s 70 pupils lined up for an assembly to mark the first day of class — held nationally on September 1 but pushed back by rebel authorities because of the conflict.

“The children were taken to the basement, they are still there,” the source said.

Six more people died when another shell struck a public minibus in Donetsk, the regional authorities said.

– Border patrols start –

The United States earlier decried the “intensifying violence” in eastern Ukraine and called on Russia and the rebels to hold fire.

“Since the ceasefire was signed… attacks on Ukrainian positions and towns, including around the Donetsk airport… have killed and wounded scores of Ukrainian armed forces and civilians,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“We call on Russia and the separatists it backs to immediately end these attacks.”

She also called on Russia, which Kiev and the West blame for stirring the conflict, to withdraw all forces and equipment from the country.

Some Russian officers have however been working with Kiev since the weekend as part of a monitoring group.

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that monitors, comprised of representatives from the Russian and Ukrainian militaries as well as the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe, have begun to patrol regions most frequently hit by ceasefire violations.

“Today the monitoring mission has begun work,” he said of several groups consisting of six Russian officers, six Ukrainians, and three to four representatives of the OSCE.

“They have begun patrols,” he told journalists.

A delegation of about 70 Russian military officers arrived in the region at the weekend to discuss with both the rebels and the Ukrainians how to implement a lasting ceasefire.

– Election season kicks off –

With the toll climbing to 68 since the truce deal was struck on September 5, Ukraine on Wednesday officially started its election season ahead of snap parliamentary polls on October 26.

Ukraine’s central election commission said that nearly 3,500 candidates have registered for the election, more than a third of them as independents.

The commission has also registered 29 parties, it said in a statement after the registration deadline passed at midnight.

Kiev is keen on also holding the vote in the regions to build legitimacy and regain the trust of Russian-speaking territories.

However the separatists of Lugansk and Donetsk have vowed to boycott the polls and hold a vote of their own on November 2 for the regional leaders and legislative bodies.

AFP Photo/John MacDougall

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