Gold rose on Thursday as rising geopolitical tensions and options-related buying helped reverse the precious metal's early sharp losses after it fell to a 2-1/2 month low.

Bullion prices were underpinned after Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Moscow rebels as they closed in on the separatists' military stronghold in the east.

Gold rose as much as 1.1 percent to near $1,300 an ounce near 10 a.m EDT (1400 GMT), with U.S. gold futures logging more than 20,000 lots in a 10-minute period, or about 20 percent of volume at the time, when Russia said it launched army drills near the border in response, raising fears that its troops would invade.

Buying related to Thursday's COMEX May option expiration also supported gold prices, with heavy concentrations of open interest for both call and put options at the $1,300 strike price, traders said.

"Traders are eyeing that $1,300 mark, which offers some resistance to the rally," said Tom Power, senior commodity broker at Chicago-based RJO Futures. "You are going to get a lot of traders dancing around that number."

Spot gold was up 0.8 percent at $1,292.95 an ounce by 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).

In early U.S. trading, spot gold had fallen to a 2-1/2 month low of $1,268.24 due to firmer equities and a weaker technical picture that had triggered strong selling, traders said.

U.S. COMEX gold futures for June delivery shot up $6 to settle at $1,290.60 an ounce.

Upbeat U.S. durable goods orders for March had earlier given a boost to the dollar, triggering further declines in the price of gold.

Tensions between Moscow and Western powers over Ukraine are lending gold support, but it remains in a somewhat fragile situation as interest from long-term investors is still absent, Saxo Bank's head of commodity strategy Ole Hansen said.

Investment demand remains weak with the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, SPDR Gold Trust, seeing sharp outflows in recent days.

Last week, the fund's outflows totalled 9.3 tonnes, erasing all the gains made in the year.

Among other precious metals, silver was up 1.1 percent at $19.62 an ounce, having dropped to a nearly five- month low of $18.91 an ounce earlier.

Platinum rose 0.8 percent to $1,408.25 an ounce and palladium gained 2.1 percent to $799.50 an ounce, reversing a recent sharp pullback.

Platinum group investors are now digesting news that three top platinum producers said they will take their wage-settlement offer directly to the miners in a bid to end the longest mining strike in living memory for South Africa. 

(By Frank Tang and Clara Denina; Additional reporting by Lewa Pardomuan in Singapore; Editing by Catherine Evans, Meredith Mazzilli and Jan Paschal)