Tensions in east Ukraine as Kiev ‘repels tank assault’
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A surge of fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev reported the heaviest shelling in six months, has raised concerns that both Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatist forces are getting ready for a return to all-out warfare.
Kiev accused on Tuesday the separatist fighters of launching another missile attack on Starohnativka, a town located between the rebel de-facto capital of Donetsk and the government-controlled Black Sea port of Mariupol.
The assault comes one day after Ukrainian government forces repelled a pre-dawn rebel raid near the village of Novolaspa.
“It’s usually a relatively quiet spot on the front. But yesterday, some 200 separatists backed by a dozen tanks and heavy artillery reportedly attacked Ukrainian forces,” said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Kiev, Stephane Siohan.
At least one Ukrainian soldier was killed in the clashes. FRANCE 24’s Siohan said that according to his information three fighters from the ultra-nationalist Pravy Sektor group were also killed in the battle. Rebel sources reported the death of one militia member and a civilian in the separatist Donetsk province.
“These are the most violent clashes since the battle of Maryinka, near Donetsk, on June 3. Government forces had then repelled a rebel assault, killing dozens of separatist fighters,” said Siohan.
Fears of further escalation to come
The European Union warned on Tuesday that the upsurge in fighting could threaten the peace accord signed in mid-February in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
"The renewed escalation of the conflict... as a result of attacks on several government-controlled areas today and in the night of 10 August on Starohnativka, violates the spirit and the letter of the Minsk Agreements," the EU's External Action Service said in a statement.
Both Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian separatists regularly accuse the other of violating the terms of the peace agreement and casualties are reported almost daily.
A ceasefire deal, signed in mid-February, has failed to stem the violence in the eastern conflict zone. Both sides regularly accuse the other of violating the terms of the peace agreement and casualties are reported almost daily.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the clashes in Novoslapa were "a dangerous indication of a further escalation to come".
"The rebels used to launch Grad missile attacks on a rare occasion. Now, it is an everyday occurrence,” Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told AFP.
Taking Starohnativka would allow pro-Russian rebels to close in on Mariupol. The government-held port is strategic for separatists because it would allow them to control a land bridge between their territories and the Crimea peninsula annexed by Moscow in March 2014.
“Heavy shelling attack”
Separatist fighters on Monday denied Kiev’s claims, saying that Novolaspa had always been one of their frontline outposts.
"The armed forces of Ukraine simply put the village under a heavy shelling attack," a local separatist official told the rebels' main news site.
Senior insurgency leader Eduard Basurin accused Ukraine's army of firing 500 mortar shells and rockets at rebel positions since Monday afternoon.
More than 6,800 people have been killed since the conflict between Ukrainian forces and separatists in the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk escalated in early 2014.
The latest reported clashes came one day after a special monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe saw several of its armoured vehicles torched by “unknown assailants” outside its headquarters in Donetsk
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)