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Heavy artillery fire in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk

Alexander Khudoteply, AFP | The facade of a building recently damaged by shelling in Donetsk

Intense artillery fire broke out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Sunday, in what was the worst fighting the region has seen since a fragile ceasefire agreement came into effect in September.

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The artillery fire began to build up near the town centre at 2 a.m. (2300 GMT Saturday), and could still be heard at the same intensity two hours later, AFP journalists in the area said.

It was not immediately possible, however, to evaluate the consequences of the violence due to an overnight curfew imposed by the rebel authorities in Donetsk and nearby Makiivka.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) voiced concern on Saturday after its monitors witnessed unmarked columns of tanks, howitzers and troop carriers moving through east Ukraine in territory held by pro-Russia separatists.

The OSCE report came a day after Ukraine's military said it had spotted a large column of tanks and other heavy weapons entering the country from Russia across a section of border that has fallen under separatist control.

Although Russia denies being involved in eastern Ukraine, it has given separatists political and humanitarian support. It is unclear, however, how rebel forces in the region have gained access to so much sophisticated and well maintained weaponry.

More than 4,000 people have killed since fighting erupted in April, according to the United Nations.

Tanks, trucks, cannons, tankers

More than 40 trucks and tankers were seen driving on a highway on the eastern outskirts of Makiivka, according to the OSCE, which is in Ukraine to monitor the country’s two-month ceasefire.

"Of these, 19 were large trucks – Kamaz type, covered, and without markings or number plates – each towing a 122mm howitzer and containing personnel in dark green uniforms without insignia. Fifteen were Kraz troop carriers," the OSCE said in its report.

It added that "a convoy of nine tanks moving west, also unmarked" had been seen just southwest of Donetsk.

The incidents were reported to have taken place on territory controlled by the separatists' self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

The Swiss foreign minister and OSCE chairperson-in-office, Didier Burkhalter, said he was "very concerned about a resurgence of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine", and urged all sides to act responsibly.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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