Sergei Grits/AP Photo

Ukraine shelling tests cease-fire agreement

Action around Mariupol and artillary fire near Donetsk raise fears that cease-fire agreed to on Friday could collapse

Shelling and other clashes between government forces and pro-Russian separatists have thrown the cease-fire agreement in eastern Ukraine into deepening peril, two days after it took hold.

Violations began Saturday, and shelling continued throughout Sunday around the port city of Mariupol, after a civilian was killed overnight. Local officials said the woman died when rebels bombarded a government-held checkpoint on the eastern edge of the city.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko by telephone about a peaceful resolution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine on Monday, the Kremlin said. The conversation allowed the leaders to discuss “steps that will facilitate a peaceful resolution to the situation,” a statement said.

Poroshenko said it was impossible to win the conflict in the east by force alone, as he paid a visit of solidarity to Mariupol on Monday.

"It is impossible to win the conflict just by military means," he said.

It was his first visit as president to the strategic industrial city since the pro-Russian insurgency erupted in April and came just three days after the signing of a truce between the government and the rebels.

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Artillery fire was heard Sunday near Donetsk, the main rebel-held city and the region’s industrial hub. At least two houses were set ablaze by shells in the rural village of Spartak, just north of Donetsk and adjacent to the airport.

A man whose house was struck told the Associated Press that rebels had fired from a spot nearby, and that apparently provoked a retaliatory attack from Ukrainian government troops.

A group of rebel fighters in the village danced and drank Sunday morning in celebration after what they said was a successful assault on a Ukrainian military encampment in the area. One said the group had captured eight government troops, though no captives could be seen.

The fighter, who gave has name as Khokhol, said the truce was not being respected by either side.

"There was mortar shelling around 20 minutes ago here in Spartak," he said. "There is no cease-fire for anyone."

On Sunday morning, blasts powerful enough to be heard in downtown Donetsk appeared to be coming from the direction of the airport. The government-held terminal, which has been reduced to little more than a burned-out shell, has been under unremitting attack from separatist forces for months.

The cease-fire — signed on Friday by Ukraine, Russia and the rebels after five months of fighting that killed at least 2,600 civilians and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes — had appeared to be holding for much of the day on Saturday, but shelling started late at night.

The 12-point cease-fire agreement, published Sunday by international monitors, calls for the withdrawal of all heavy weaponry, the release of all prisoners and the delivery of humanitarian aid to devastated cities in eastern Ukraine.

The truce also obliges Kiev to give greater powers to the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions and calls for local elections to be held in those Russian-speaking areas.

Amnesty International on Sunday condemned all sides in the grinding conflict, saying they have "shown disregard for civilian lives and are blatantly violating their international obligations."

Echoing allegations leveled by the Ukrainian government and NATO, the group said it has evidence that Moscow is fuelling the conflict by directly supporting the separatist fighters. In making its case, the group presented satellite images appearing to show Russian weaponry being brought into Ukraine.

"These satellite images, coupled with reports of Russian troops captured inside Ukraine and eyewitness accounts of Russian troops and military vehicles rolling across the border, leave no doubt that this is now an international armed conflict," Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty said in a statement.

Moscow denies dispatching forces or arming the rebels despite what NATO says is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

EU leaders plan to put further pressure on Russia over its alleged support for the rebels by approving fresh sanctions on Monday on its defense and oil companies.

Russia's top oil producers and pipeline operators Rosneft, Transneft and Gazprom Neft are on the list of state-owned firms that will not be allowed to raise capital or borrow on European markets, an EU diplomat told Reuters. The sanctions will not, however, encompass the gas sector and in particular state-owned Gazprom, the world's biggest gas producer, which supplies Europe with about 30 percent of its natural gas.

But the bloc's President Herman Van Rompuy on Sunday said these steps could be reviewed "if the cease-fire is durable, and/or if the peace talks start."

"The most important thing was to achieve a cease-fire," he said. "There have been a few incidents. We have to wait a bit to see if these incidents will continue or if they are exceptions."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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