Reuters International

KIEV (Reuters) - Seven Ukrainian troops were killed in the past 24 hours during fighting with pro-Russian separatists, making July the deadliest month for the Ukrainian military in nearly a year after a sharp increase in violence.

Another 14 were wounded, a military spokesman said. Clashes in Ukraine's eastern regions have surged in spite of an 18-month-old 'Minsk' ceasefire deal. International monitors have expressed unease at recent escalation.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said separatists had been firing high-calibre mortars at government positions, naming the rebel-controlled town of Horlivka and the outskirts of rebel-held Luhansk as particular hotspots.

"On average every attack lasts for at least thirty minutes and can last for up to two hours. That's how it was yesterday," Lysenko said, without giving details on how the soldiers were killed.

Meanwhile separatist officials accused Ukrainian troops of intensifying shelling on rebel-held territory, separatist news site DAN reported.

The Minsk agreement was meant to stop the fighting, which has killed over 9,400 since April 2014, but many of the deal's points - including the complete withdrawal heavy weapons from the frontline - have yet to be fully implemented.

On July 12, the chief monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Ertugrul Apakan, expressed unease over the recent sharp increase in fighting.

He drew attention to the continued threat to civilian life, highlighting the recent deaths – in two separate incidents in Donetsk region – of five young boys, three of them brothers.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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 Reuters International