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EU Says 'Spiral Of Violence' in Ukraine Must Stop, Blames Rebels

February 04, 2015

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini has said that the 'spiral of ever-increasing violence in eastern Ukraine needs to stop' and blamed pro-Russian rebels for a recent escalation that she said was causing 'great human suffering.'

In a statement on February 4, Mogherini said that 'the shelling of civilians, wherever it happens, is a grave violation of international humanitarian law.'

But she reserved her sharpest words for the pro-Russian rebels, who have been fighting to seize the town of Debaltseve from embattled government forces and have threatened to attempt to take control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in their entirety.

'The fighting provoked by the continued separatist offensive, notably around Debaltseve, is causing great human suffering and undermines all efforts aimed at a political solution,' Mogherini said.

She joined the OSCE's chairman in a call for an immediate cease-fire in the Debaltseve area, saying a truce should last at least three days.

'Residents of Ukraine's Donbas strive to flee the region and the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen dramatically in the coldest period of the year,' she said, using a term that refers to the industrial portion of eastern Ukraine where separatists hold the provincial capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk.

'Civilians need to be able to leave the conflict zone safely,' the statement said.

With reports saying at least three people were killed in shelling that damaged a hospital on the western outskirts of Donetsk, Mogherini repeated calls for the withdrawal of artillery from residential areas.

French news agency AFP reported on February 4 that a body lay in front of the hospital in the Tekstylshchyk neighborhood, and that two more dead civilians could be seen lying outside a nearby residential building.

Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk said more than 15 people were killed when the hospital came under artillery fire, and that several public buildings including schools had been damaged.

Pope Francis said on February 4 that the situation in Ukraine 'is worsening and so is the position of all of the parties involved.'

He called on international leaders to push hard to promote dialogue, 'which is the only way to lead to peace and concord in this martyred land.'

In a weekly audience at the Vatican, he said the conflict 'is a war between Christians, you all have the same baptism, Christians are fighting each other, think of this scandal. We will all pray because prayer is our protest in front of God in the time of war.'

Ukraine and Russia are predominantly Orthodox Christian.

Near Debaltseve, fighting continued despite international calls for a truce and concerns about the fate of civilians in the road and rail junction town between Donetsk and Luhansk.

The Ukrainian military said rebels used 'all kinds of weapons' in nine attacks on its positions near Debaltseve overnight, but failed to dislodge government forces.

Separately, military spokesman Vyacheslav Seleznyov said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the previous 24 hours across eastern Ukraine, where the conflict has killed more than 5,350 people since April.

A separatist spokesman said four people were killed in and around the city of Donetsk overnight.

The calls for a truce in the Debaltseve area came after Amnesty International released a statement on February 3 calling the situation there 'catastrophic,' with thousands of residents 'desperately sheltering from heavy shelling' and in need of running water, food, electricity, and basic medical supplies.

The OSCE's current chairman, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, said the truce should be used first to evacuate noncombatants from the area but should also lead to 'the immediate resumption of consultations with the aim of securing a sustainable cease-fire.'

A 12-point agreement on a cease-fire and steps toward peace was signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on September 5, but it has been violated daily and diplomatic efforts have failed to stop an escalation in fighting that the UN says killed more than 242 civilians in January.

On February 3, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein urged all sides to stop fighting, saying 'further escalation will prove catastrophic for the 5.2 million people living in the midst of conflict in eastern Ukraine.'

He said the estimate of at least 5,358 people killed and 12,235 wounded in the conflict since mid-April was 'conservative' and that UN agencies believe the actual number of deaths was 'considerably higher.'

The conflict, which erupted after Russia illegally seized control of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March, has driven ties between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of arming, training, and aiding the rebels by sending troops to fight alongside them.

Fighting subsided somewhat in December but reignited around January 10, and peace talks in Minsk on January 31 quickly fell apart amid what the United States has called a 'Russian-backed offensive' by the rebels.

Speaking on February 3, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, 'The vast majority of the international community believes the preponderance of aggressive actions are coming from the Russian side and the side of the Russian-backed separatists.'

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Interfax, AFP, Reuters, AP, and UNIAN

Source: ukraine-mogherini-russia/26829845.html

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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