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Ukrainian Gov't Troops Near Rebel City 08/19 06:35

   The Ukrainian government has captured most of a town near Donetsk, 
tightening the noose around the key rebel-held stronghold, officials said on 
Tuesday.

   DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- The Ukrainian government has captured most of a 
town near Donetsk, tightening the noose around the key rebel-held stronghold, 
officials said on Tuesday.

   Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a Facebook post that one soldier was 
killed and four wounded when a volunteer battalion came under mortar fire 
before entering the town of Ilovaysk, 18 kilometers (11 miles) east of Donetsk. 
Among the wounded is the commander of the Donbass battalion, Semyon 
Semenchenko, who said government soldiers destroyed three rebel checkpoints and 
four firing positions, and that fighting continues.

   Government efforts to quell the pro-Russian separatist front have focused 
lately on gradually encircling Donetsk, the largest rebel-controlled city.

   Volunteer battalions have proven essential in the government offensive 
against armed separatists in the mainly Russian-speaking east.

   Ukrainian troops were also advancing in the neighboring region. Col. Andriy 
Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, told reporters on 
Tuesday government troops have captured one neighborhood in regional capital 
Luhansk and are fighting the rebels on city streets including the city center.

   Fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern 
Ukraine has forced nearly 344,000 people to flee their homes, according to the 
United Nations --- a number that has only grown as the humanitarian situation 
in rebel-held cities deteriorates.

   The situation appears to be particularly dire in the city of Luhansk, near 
the Russian border, which has been left without electricity, running water or 
phone connections for 17 days. Independent reports from the besieged city are 
scarce since the area is very dangerous for journalists.

   The city hall said in a statement on its website on Tuesday that Luhansk and 
its city center came under fierce shelling overnight. An unspecified number of 
civilians were killed or wounded. Residents are standing in lines to buy bread 
as food supplies are running out, the city hall said. Authorities also raised 
the alarm about a potential outbreak of infectious diseases since household 
waste has not been taken out of town for more than two weeks amid sweltering 
heat.

   Ukraine and the West have voiced concern about Russia's military activity at 
the Ukrainian border. Moscow has said it can do what it wants within its 
borders but invited a mission from the Organization for Security and 
Cooperation in Europe to observe two border crossings in a bid to counter 
claims that the Kremlin is supplying the rebels with weapons.

   Paul Picard, head of that mission, told reporters in a Russian border town 
on Tuesday that observers had seen a marked increase of military activity 
around the border points over the past week, including Russian helicopter 
activity. But he said no helicopters were observed crossing the border.

   Picard also said that the observers had seen "groups of young men and women 
wearing military-style dress" moving back and forth across the border. No 
weapons or military vehicles were observed.

   Tensions have been high over the past week since Russia said it plans to 
send a massive aid convoy to help people in eastern Ukraine. The International 
Committee of the Red Cross, which is expected to take responsibility for the 
convoy when it enters Ukraine, was still waiting for security guarantees from 
all sides Tuesday.

   The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that minister Sergey Lavrov 
and ICRC President Peter Maurer agreed to take steps "in the next several 
hours" to clear the way for the convoy to proceed to Ukraine.

   The ministry quoted Maurer as saying that the ICRC had received the 
guarantees from Russia and the rebels but not from the Ukrainian government. 
Lysenko of the Ukrainian security council, however, said on Tuesday that 
Ukrainian customs officers have not cleared the convoy yet since the Red Cross 
has not received the security assurances from the insurgents.


(KA)


 
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