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Europe

Pressure high on Russia following Ukraine ceasefire deal

The EU has decided to hold on to sanctions against Russia until they're sure that Moscow will keep its end of the bargain in Ukraine. The ceasefire between Kyiv and pro-Russian rebels is to go into effect on Sunday.

At least eight people were killed and 34 wounded in violence between Ukraine's army and separatists in its east, Ukrainian army spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said on Friday.

"In the Donbass (in eastern Ukraine), this night was not a calm one. The enemy shelled positions of the 'anti-terrorist operation' forces with the same intensity as before," the military said in a statement, adding that fighting had been intense in the strategic railway hub of Debaltseve.

Separatist authorities also reported three civilians dying after shelling in rebel stronghold Lugansk, news agency AFP reported.

News of the casualties came hours after leaders from France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia announced a new ceasefire agreement. Under the new peace deal, fighting between separatists in Ukraine's eastern areas bordering Russia and Kyiv's army is to stop at midnight on Sunday, Kyiv time (2200 UTC Saturday).

The ceasefire is to be monitored by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) using satellites, radars and drones over the 2,000-kilometer (1,242- miles) long Ukrainian border to Russia, German news agency DPA reported.

Heavy weapons are to be withdrawn from eastern Ukraine under the ceasefire agreement. The deal also foresees the installation of more border checks and the discussion of a prisoner exchange between pro-Russia rebels and Kyiv.

However, Russia and Kyiv still remain at odds on how to end fighting at Debaltseve, which experienced intense clashes in the last weeks.

'Actions matter now'

The Obama administration was meanwhile taking a very careful approach towards the new peace deal.

"This agreement must now be followed by immediate, concrete steps to fulfill the commitments by all parties," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also commented on the latest agreement, saying: "Actions will be what matter now."

Kerry added that the US would "judge the commitment of Russia and the separatists by their actions, not their words."

Ukraine Zerstörung Kindergarten in Debaltseve

The Debaltseve area in Ukraine has experienced intense fighting

US negotiators were prominently absent from the 17-hour-long ceasefire talks led by French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who bargained with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and rebel leaders Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky.

Further sanctions 'not ruled out'

After brokering the deal in Minsk in talks with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders, Merkel told a press conference in Brussels that EU leaders had asked the bloc's executive to prepare new sanctions if the ceasefire did not hold.

"If there are difficulties, then we would not rule out further sanctions," Merkel said, adding that several points of the ceasefire could prove difficult to implement. " Previously, the chancellor had described the accord as "a glimmer of hope."

Also speaking at the EU leaders' summit in Brussels, Hollande said that if the agreement did not stand, then "we would get back into the procedure that you know ... where sanctions would be added to the sanctions that are already in place."

The new peace deal comes after a ceasefire brokered in Belarus' capital Minsk five months ago failed to stop the conflict. The UN estimates that almost 5,400 people have been killed since the fighting in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk broke out in April 2014, following the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovich and Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

mg/kms (AP, dpa)

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