Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine rejected a previously signed peace deal today and announced a new multi-pronged offensive against Ukrainian government troops. The main separatist leader in the Donetsk region said the insurgents won't join further peace talks, and another rebel went even further, saying they will not abide by a peace deal signed in September. Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said rebel fighters launched the new offensive to gain more territory and forestall a Ukrainian attack. It's not clear how much control Russia exerts on him, but a new offensive could well lead to new sanctions from the West against Moscow, reports the New York Times.
"Attempts to talk about a cease-fire will no longer be undertaken by our side," Zakharchenko said. The peace deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division line in eastern Ukraine. It has been repeatedly violated by both sides, and there has been a surge in fighting and deadly mortar attacks in the last few weeks. The foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany agreed Wednesday to revive that division line, but fighting has continued unabated. The UN human rights agency today raised its estimate of the conflict's overall death toll to nearly 5,100 since April due to the fighting.