February 20, 2015 / 9:23 AM / 3 years ago

Fighting persists in east Ukraine despite ceasefire

KIEV/VUHLEHIRSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Fighting persisted in east Ukraine on Friday despite new European efforts to ensure a ceasefire takes hold.

A Ukrainian serviceman rides on a self-propelled howitzer near Artemivsk February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

The Ukrainian military said pro-Russian separatists had attacked positions held by government troops 49 times in the past 24 hours, using rockets, artillery and armored vehicles,

“The number of attacks show the terrorists do not want to completely silence their guns,” Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoly Stelmach said.

He said there had been some shelling in the district of Mariupol - mostly government-held territory on the Sea of Azov that Kiev fears may become the focus of the separatists’ next offensive.

The rebels accused the government forces of also staging attacks, including on what they said were residential areas of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. One woman was killed in the shelling on Thursday, the separatist press service DAN said.

The fiercest fighting since a truce came into effect on Sunday was in and around Debaltseve, a strategic rail hub, before Ukrainian forces withdrew on Wednesday.

A Reuters witness saw a tank emblazoned with the words ‘Good Wolf’ firing from a separatist checkpoint outside Vuhlehirsk, a frontline town near Debaltseve, on Friday morning, indicating fighting had not ceased completely in the area.

The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia agreed by telephone on Thursday to make a new effort to ensure the ceasefire holds. The four countries’ foreign ministers are expected to meet next week to discuss east Ukraine.

Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Anton Zverev,; Writing by Alessandra Prentice, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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