BERLIN: Germany today condemned a rebel offensive in eastern Ukraine against the strategic town of Debaltseve as a "heavy strain" on hopes for peace.
Berlin "strongly condemns the military actions of the separatists in Debaltseve", said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert, calling it a "major violation" of the latest truce deal reached in Minsk.
The offensive brought "great suffering to the population" of the region and placed "a heavy strain on the agreement and on peace hopes for eastern Ukraine", he said.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said today that government forces had withdrawn from the flashpoint town of Debaltseve, where pro-Russian rebels have been battling troops for weeks.
Seibert said that despite the strain to the Minsk agreement, Berlin believes that it is worth it "to keep working" for a negotiated solution, pointing to Moscow's latest peace pledge before the United Nations.
The UN Security Council, including permanent member Russia yesterday urged both sides in the conflict to "immediately cease hostilities" -- a move Seibert praised as "a good signal".
"Russia has made a further commitment to the Minsk agreement and to work for peace, and we along with many others will have to keep reminding the Russian leadership of this in coming days," he said.
Seibert also said that while further escalations could spark more sanctions against Russia, Germany maintained its opposition to the idea of sending weapons to the Ukrainian government.
"The German government has made clear its opinion on delivering lethal weapons, and this opinion has not changed," Seibert said at a regular press conference.