Rebels in Ukraine say commander is killed in a car bombing

AP PHOTO Ukrainian servicemen patrol near the humanitarian aid center in Avdiivka, Ukraine, Saturday.

AVDIIVKA, Ukraine — A top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine was killed along with another person when their car exploded, rebels said Saturday, blaming Ukraine’s special services for the blast.

Ukraine’s military, meanwhile, said three soldiers were killed in shelling over the past day.

Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatist rebels has escalated over the past week in eastern Ukraine, killing at least 33 people, including civilians, and wounding several dozen. More than 9,800 people have died since the war began in April 2014.

The rebels’ Lugansk Information Center reported Saturday that Lugansk People’s Militia commander Oleg Anashchenko died in the explosion along with an unnamed person.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke late Saturday with President Donald Trump, who he said expressed “deep concern” over the escalation.

The surge in violence began the day after Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone with Trump for the first time since Trump entered the White House. Poroshenko has cast the outburst of fighting as an argument for continuing Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.