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Ukrainian army steps up attacks on rebel-held Donetsk

Published on Aug 4, 2014 1:24 AM

DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian separatists battled on Sunday to keep advancing Ukrainian government forces at bay in heavy fighting on the outskirts of Donetsk, the rebels' main stronghold in eastern Ukraine.

Shelling by Ukrainian troops, some of them in sunflower fields outside the large industrial city, killed six people over the weekend, city officials said, as well as setting buildings ablaze and leaving shell craters in roads. The army has all but encircled the other main rebel redoubt of Luhansk, where three civilians were killed in the latest fighting, and is trying to tighten the noose around Donetsk.

Fighting has intensified since the downing of a Malaysian airliner in rebel-held territory on July 17 and, with each side blaming the other for the deaths of the 298 crew and passengers, relations between Russia and the West are deteriorating rapidly.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to persuade the rebels to end the conflict and to ensure they do not hinder international experts trying to recover human remains from the plane's wreckage. "It is an unspeakable abomination that, two weeks after this crash, there are still bodies on the crash site unrecovered and the Russians have not used their influence with the separatists," Mr Hammond told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. "I said last week that there is one man who can snap his fingers and make this happen and he hasn't done so. He must now do so," he said, urging Mr Putin to cut off arms to the rebels and "stop destabilising and interfering" in Ukraine.

Ukrainian army tanks move past a checkpoint as they patrol the area near eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve on August 3, 2014. Nine civilians were killed in new fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists around the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk in east Ukraine, local officials said on Sunday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
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