Dec 9, 2014 3:16 AM

Ukraine attempts news cease-fire in the east

The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) Ukraine's military authorities said they suspended hostilities Tuesday against Russian-backed separatists in the east in line with a truce declared last week.

President Petro Poroshenko declared a "day of silence" Thursday in the hope of reviving a September cease-fire deal that has been breached almost daily.

The seven-month long conflict has left more than 4,300 people dead, displaced hundreds of thousands and exhausted a nation struggling to stave off economic collapse.

Separatist rebel leaders have stated their support for the truce, which appeared to be holding around the main rebel-held cities of Donetsk and Luhansk early Tuesday.

Intense shelling continued right up until the eve of the cut-off period for hostilities, claiming multiple casualties.

Ukrainian officials said Tuesday that government-controlled residential areas and armed positions had come under rocket fire more than 60 times over the previous 24-hour period. Two civilians were killed and another 10 injured as a result of artillery attacks, the officials said.

Meanwhile, local authorities in the main separatist stronghold of Donetsk said two civilians were killed in the rebel-controlled city. The city hall said more than 20 residential buildings were damaged by rockets.

Poroshenko's office had announced a new round of peace talks involving Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would be held Tuesday in the capital of Belarus, Minsk.

Those talks have not materialized, and rebels accuse Kiev of bad faith in pursuing a long-term peace agreement. They have pointed in particular to a decision by Ukraine's government last month to cut off rebel territories from basic government services and welfare and pension payments as an attempt to subjugate the local population.

Vasiliy Vovk, head of the Ukrainian security services' investigative department, said Monday night in a televised appearance that peace negotiations would take place in Minsk on Friday.

The United States, European Union, Germany and many other Western nations have strongly criticized Russia's role in Ukraine's conflict, accusing it of supplying rebels with manpower and arms.

Moscow denies that it is supporting the rebellion, although it is strongly critical of Ukraine's government and its robust efforts to rein in breakaway territories.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov struck a conciliatory note Tuesday in a signal that Moscow could support the return of separatist areas into Ukraine's fold.

Lavrov told state news agency RIA-Novosti that rebels were ready "to restore a common economic, humanitarian and political space" with Ukraine.


Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.


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