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Two Dozen Dead in 24 Hours as the Gunfire Rumbles On

Published: 09th February 2015 10:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th February 2015 10:40 AM   |  A+A-

While Western leaders were discussing how to solve the 10-month conflict in Ukraine, at least 24 people were reported to have been killed in fighting yesterday (Sunday).

The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia agreed to meet on Wednesday in Minsk, Belarus, in an attempt to thrash out a ceasefire - but on the ground clashes and artillery barrages continued unchecked.

Heavily armed pro-Russian rebel militia were attempting to surround several thousand Ukrainian forces deployed in Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub that would allow the separatists to transport coal and other goods around their territory with greater ease.

A temporary ceasefire was agreed by both sides to evacuate civilians from the semi-destroyed town on Friday, but clashes resumed soon afterwards.

Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council said yesterday that government forces had repelled rebel attacks on checkpoints and Ukrainian positions near Debaltseve and Chornukhyne, a nearby settlement, after "massive firing" by the separatists with Grad rockets, artillery, mortars and small arms.

The council said more than 350 people were evacuated from dangerous areas of Donetsk region. Kiev also announced its forces had "destroyed" 70 rebel fighters and 14 military vehicles. The Ukrainian military had "received the latest evidence of Russian aggression against Ukraine" by seizing several Shmel portable rocket launchers, which it said were only used by the Russian army. The claims could not be independently verified.

Authorities in Donetsk, the city which is the separatists' stronghold, said the situation was "tense", and incoming artillery fire had been heard all night. Several neighbourhoods were hit and one blast blew the windows out of an old people's home. In total, fresh fighting left 12 civilians dead, separatist and Kiev authorities reported, with 12 Ukrainian troops also killed in the last 24 hours.

Last week, Human Rights Watch blamed rebel forces for two attacks with unguided rockets which killed at least 41 civilians, but said that a series of other assaults with explosive weapons "appear to implicate government forces".

Almost 7,000 people in Donetsk were without gas on yesterday, food and medical supplies have been dwindling in hospitals and the Kiev government has introduced a permit system for crossing the front line that hinders businesses.

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