Pro-russian rebels try to seize Donetsk airport

imgPro-Russian rebels pressed on Friday to seize a key airport in eastern Ukraine despite fierce resistance by government forces.

An AP reporter on Friday saw three rebel tanks firing their cannons at the main terminal of Donetsk airport, where government forces have holed up. Sniper shots rang around the area.

Rebels have made some gains in the area near the airport, seizing some buildings on its fringes and using them to target the main terminal.

Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said two Ukrainian servicemen have been killed and another nine wounded since Thursday. He said that Ukrainian forces at the airport have undergone rotation and firmly stood their ground.

The airport, located just north of Donetsk, the largest city in the east, gives the Ukrainian forces a convenient vantage point to target rebel positions. Its loss would be a major blow to Ukraine and would also allow the rebels to receive large cargo planes with supplies in addition to truck convoys from Russia.

Fighting for the airport has intensified this week, threatening to derail the truce declared September 5. A follow-up deal which called for both parties to pull back their artillery to create a buffer zone hasn’t been implemented.

Residential areas in Donetsk have been caught in the crossfire. A Red Cross staffer died on Thursday when a shell landed near the group’s office in Donetsk.

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