Civil­ians caught in Ukraine cross­fire

Death toll rises

Cape Breton Post - - WORLD -

In­ter­na­tional mon­i­tors on Fri­day strongly urged the war­ring sides in east­ern Ukraine to si­lence their guns as heavy ar­tillery and rocket bar­rages have con­tin­ued to pum­mel res­i­den­tial ar­eas.

At least 33 peo­ple in­clud­ing civil­ians have been killed in fight­ing this week and sev­eral dozens in­jured in the worst vi­o­lence in the re­gion since 2015.

“Un­ac­cept­able! ... Sides have to stop fight­ing!” the mon­i­tor­ing mis­sion of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion In Europe said on its Face­book page.

The death toll in fight­ing be­tween Ukrainian forces and Rus­sia-backed sep­a­ratist rebels that be­gan in April 2014 has ex­ceeded 9,800, ac­cord­ing to United Na­tions fig­ures and a tally of re­cent fight­ing.

While the war­ring sides have reg­u­larly ex­changed gun­fire de­spite a Fe­bru­ary 2015 peace deal bro­kered by France and Ger­many, this week has seen a sharp spike in hos­til­i­ties. Fight­ing has raged around the gov­ern­ment­con­trolled in­dus­trial town of Avdi­ivka just north of the main rebel strong­hold of Donetsk, catch­ing res­i­den­tial ar­eas in cross­fire.

“We have seen on both sides an in­cred­i­ble amount of cease-fire vi­o­la­tions,” said Alexan­der Hug, head of the OSCE’s mon­i­tor­ing mis­sion.

Each side blamed the other for the up­surge of vi­o­lence, but the Ukrainian mil­i­tary has boasted that its troops have gained some ground.

AP re­porters saw heavy weapons on both sides of the front line, in clear vi­o­la­tion of a 2015 peace deal that en­vis­aged their pull­back.

“We have seen the whole range of heavy weapons in the area here, start­ing from the smaller cal­i­bre mor­tars to larger cal­i­bre ar­tillery to mul­ti­ple launch rocket sys­tems in the ar­eas where they shouldn’t be,” Hug told re­porters in Avdi­ivka.

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko has cast the out­burst of fight­ing as an ar­gu­ment for con­tin­u­ing West­ern sanc­tions im­posed on Moscow for its ac­tion in Ukraine. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­peated prom­ises to im­prove re­la­tions with Rus­sia have fu­eled Ukraine’s con­cern that Wash­ing­ton would back off some of the sanc­tions.

The up­surge of hos­til­i­ties around Avdi­ivka co­in­cided with last week­end’s phone con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Trump and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, their first since Trump took of­fice. Putin on Thurs­day ac­cused the Ukrainian lead­er­ship of or­der­ing the at­tack in the east to pose as a vic­tim in a bid to se­cure U.S. and EU sup­port and pre­vent a thaw in Rus­sia-West ties.


A baby girl cries in her mother’s arms as they stand in queue to get hu­man­i­tar­ian aid at the hu­man­i­tar­ian aid cen­ter in Avdi­ivka, east­ern Ukraine, Fri­day.

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