Ceasefire largely holding around Ukraine airport

3rd December 2014, Comments 0 comments

Bursts of exploding shells echoed across the Ukrainian rebel-held city of Donetsk on Wednesday but a ceasefire at the disputed airport appeared to be holding one day into a tenuous local truce.

An AFP reporter said the calm was shattered just before noon by the sound of several Grad missiles that appeared to have been fired from rebel-held positions.

"We heard the shelling but we are not afraid -- we are used to it by now," said Oleksandr, 54, a resident of a partially-destroyed building next to Donetsk airport.

Local authorities reported no casualties and a pro-Russian rebel commander on the ground denied any involvement in the latest firing.

"Our side respected the ceasefire," the rebel told AFP without giving his name.

The latest truce in the nearly eight-month war went into effect late Tuesday after a round of negotiations between the visiting deputy head of Russia's ground forces and a senior Ukrainian general.

Donetsk rebel leaders signed up to the agreement at a separate meeting.

Another ceasefire for the entire neighbouring pro-Russian region of Lugansk is due to go into effect on Friday.

The two deals are meant to reinforce a comprehensive ceasefire signed by all sides on September 5 that was supposed to establish a 30-kilometre (18-mile) buffer zone and grant limited self-rule to the separatists.

But hostilities only intensified after the two rebel regions held their own leadership polls on November 2 that were denounced by both Kiev and the West.

Pro-Russian militias had been attacking the Donetsk hub -- once eastern Ukraine's most modern and busiest airport -- since May in order to prevent Kiev from using it to funnel soldiers and supplies into the war zone.

The structure and its landing strip have been devastated by constant shelling and no planes will be able to land there without a complete overhaul of facilities.

Truce agreements have been broken on repeated occasions with both rebel and government forces unable to control hardline fighters who reject the compromises of their leaders.

But Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko -- a pro-Western leader elected in May on a vow to quickly reunite his country -- has faced growing criticism over the human and financial cost of the war.

Battles between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have killed more than 4,300 people and displaced 930,000 since mid-April.

© 2014 AFP

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