Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Heavy fighting 'erupts in rebel stronghold Donetsk'

Insurgents claim that the Ukrainian army is attempting to break through the city limits with tanks

Fighting has erupted in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk as the Ukrainian army attempts to break through, separatist forces have claimed.

Gunshots and explosions are reportedly being heard near the city’s railway station, as tanks and armoured vehicles roll into the rebel-held territory, Reuters reports.

An official from the self-titled Donetsk People's Republic, Sergei Kavtaradze, said that at least four tanks were trying to barrel their way into the city.

Clashes have been reported on the Donetsk city limits, a rebel heartland where some of the MH17 victims are believed to be held after their bodies were collected from the crash site on the outskirts of the region.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said its operations in the east of the country were ongoing but he could not confirm the reports of soldiers entering Donetsk.

“The active phase of the anti-terrorist operation is continuing. We are not about to announce any troop movements,” Vladyslav Seleznyov said.

Yesterday, 198 bodies were loaded by pro-Moscow fighters onto a refrigerated train in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15km from the crash site.

A Donetsk official has today asked residents not to go out or “leave the limits of their homes and apartments.”

Video: 'Terrorists take out the bodies...'

It comes on the day that Putin criticised some forces for using MH17 for "mercenary objectives," while the UN Security Council prepares to vote on a proposal to demand full access to the crash site.