Civilians die in Ukraine as rebel 
forces battle Government troops

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At least eight civilians have been killed by fighting and shelling in two cities in eastern Ukraine held by separatist militants, officials said today.

Authorities in Luhansk said five people were killed and 15 injured by overnight artillery strikes. Three were killed in Donetsk as a result of clashes.

Territory between the cities has seen intensified fighting as government troops try to gain control over the area where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed earlier this month.

Both sides in the conflict have traded accusations over the mounting civilian death toll.

Rebels accuse government troops of deploying artillery against residential areas. Authorities deny that charge, but also complain of insurgents using apartment blocks as firing positions.

Dutch and Australian police set off for the crash site in a convoy of 20 cars this morning, aiming to secure the area so that investigations can continue and any remaining bodies can be recovered.

The US State Department released satellite images which it says back up its claims that rockets and heavy artillery have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine to support the separatists across the border.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the claims at a televised press conference, asking “why it took 10 days” for the US to release the images.

A four-page document released by the State Department appears to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed.

Officials said the images, sourced from the US Director of National Intelligence, show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 – after the July 17 downing of MH17.

The images could not be independently verified by the Associated Press.

Mr Lavrov said he is expecting Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe observers to arrive at the Russian-Ukrainian border “in the coming days”. He said they would be able to see that accusations rebels are travelling freely into Ukraine from Russia are false. Ukrainian officials have said the mission is largely pointless because it involves only about two dozen observers monitoring a 1,240-mile (2,000km) border.

Meanwhile, flight data recorders from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 appear to show that it crashed after being punctured multiple times by shrapnel.

Ukraine’s national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the plane suffered “massive explosive decompression” after it was hit by fragments he said came from a missile.

The data recorders were sent to UK experts for examination.

Flight 17 went down on July 17 as it flew from Amsterdam toward Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard died. The US and Ukrainian governments say it was shot down by a missile fired from territory held by armed pro-Russian separatists. The separatists deny shooting down the plane and Russia says the Ukrainian military may have shot it down.

The two black boxes from the Algerian passenger jet that went down in Mali last week, killing all 118 aboard, have arrived in France for analysis.

Martine Del Bono, spokeswoman for the French aviation investigation office, said the data and voice recorders of the Air Algerie plane have arrived and are in the hands of experts