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Red Cross worker killed in shelling as fighting rages in Donetsk

Smoke rises after shelling near the airport in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on Thursday. Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine advanced on the government-held airport in Donetsk, pressing to seize the key transportation hub even as the two sides bargained over a troop pullout under a much-violated truce.   | Photo Credit: Darko Vojinovic

Fierce fighting was underway on Thursday in Donetsk, with the first report in weeks of artillery fire hitting the city centre, as government forces and pro-Russian separatists were battling over control of the eastern Ukrainian city’s airport.

Photos showed a large pillar of smoke rising from the area of the airport. City authorities said that, due to ongoing fighting, fire-fighters could not reach the site of a massive explosion. There were no immediate casualty figures.

Separately, a Swiss citizen was reported dead after artillery fire struck central Donetsk, the first time since a September ceasefire that the city’s centre has been hit.

The shots hit the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Interfax reported. The Red Cross confirmed a “tragic” incident. Ukrainian Army and rebel forces each blamed the other side.

On Wednesday, at least 10 civilians were killed by heavy shelling in the city.

The Ukrainian military accused the separatists of launching four attempts to storm the airport, which has been held by government commandos for months.

“Ukrainian paratroopers heroically repelled the attacks, killing seven fighters and injuring more than a dozen,” National Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told a briefing, according to an official transcript.

Mr. Lysenko stressed that both terminals remain under the military’s control. He said one soldier was killed and 18 were injured in fighting during the past 24 hours.

An unnamed separatist commander, however, told Interfax that the Ukrainian army had attacked and that the rebels had fought off an attempt to retake one of the terminals.

The fresh fighting broke out last week as negotiations about delineating a buffer zone between the warring sides began. The violence raised massive concerns about the month-old ceasefire.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him that it was Moscow’s responsibility to temper the separatists, her office said late Wednesday.

Mr. Putin emphasized that the Ukrainian army must stop attacking civilian targets, the Kremlin said.

The president said on Thursday that Russia is interested in stability in Ukraine and hopes that the October 26 parliamentary elections will help achieve that.

“I hope that the ... elections will be decent so that long—awaited political stability will finally come,” Mr .Putin said at an investment forum in Moscow.

Separatist leaders were quick to stress that they will not allow the vote to be held in the areas under their control. “We respect President Putin’s comments, but we are not Ukraine ... and statements on participation in Ukrainian elections mean nothing to us,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-declared “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” told Interfax.

Mr. Putin was adamant that Russia wants to help Ukraine end the crisis.

“We are interested in having a predictable partner and neighbour,” he said, adding that for Russia, Ukrainians will always be “the closest brotherly people.” Russian investigators said on Thursday that they would press war crimes charges against Ukrainian military leaders, including Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey.


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