US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Kiev for talks focusing on the possibility of arming Ukrainian forces in their fight against Russian-backed separatist rebels.
The visit on Thursday comes a day after rocket salvos hit a previously safe section of Ukraine's rebel stronghold of Donetsk, killing at least five people and damaging a hospital, schools and kindergartens, rebels said.
Kerry will try to explore ways to end the conflict that has claimed more than 5,100 lives in the past nine months, as Washington mulls sending weapons to Kiev.
He will also unveil $16m in fresh US humanitarian aid, particularly to help those displaced in the war-torn east, US diplomats told Reuters news agency.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he was confident that the US would agree to give weapons to Ukraine's army for its fight against the rebels, which has left more than 5,300 people dead since April.
US reviewing policy
President Barack Obama has opposed to providing lethal assistance, but the surge in fighting has reportedly spurred the White House to review the policy.
I don't have the slightest doubt that the decision to supply Ukraine with weapons will be made by the US.
"I don't have the slightest doubt that the decision to supply Ukraine with weapons will be made by the United States as well as by other partners of ours, because we need to have the capability to defend ourselves," Poroshenko said on a visit to Kharkiv, a government-controlled city in eastern Ukraine.
Germany and France strongly oppose the idea, however. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman indicated the issue would be discussed when Merkel meets Obama in Washington next week.
"We will not deliver any lethal weapons," Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday. "We are convinced that there can be no military solution to this already very bloody conflict."
A spokesman for Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the UN secretary-general condemned indiscriminate shelling and called on both sides in the conflict to immediately move their military positions away from densely populated civilian areas.
"As Secretary Kerry meets with Ukrainian leaders, his job will be to see whether the US's strategy ought to changed, if at all," Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from the US State Department in Washington DC, said.
"Seeing the facts on the ground might not be enough to persuade the Obama administration to change course."
War killed 220 in three weeks
The fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine escalated sharply in January, with more than 220 civilians killed in the past three weeks alone, according to the UN.
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The rebel-run Donetsk News Agency, citing police, reported five people killed by shelling around the hospital in the city's western Tekstilshchik district on Wednesday.
City officials in Donetsk said the number of casualties could not immediately be established.
Separatist official Eduard Basurin told reporters that four civilians had been killed in the day before Wednesday's shelling.
In Kiev, military spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said two Ukrainian troops have been killed and 18 injured in the past 24 hours.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies