Moscow, Aug 15 (IANS/EFE) Russia has asked Ukraine's government and the ethnic-Russian rebels in the eastern part of the country to suspend hostilities to ensure safe passage for a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for residents in the conflict zone.

A ceasefire is required because of the appalling situation in the southeast of Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said Thursday.

The 262-vehicle convoy is loaded with roughly 2,000 tonnes of supplies, including power generators, food, water, medical supplies and sleeping bags, the ministry said.

The convoy remains in Russian territory awaiting Kiev's approval to enter Ukraine and deliver the cargo to the eastern city of Lugansk, a hub of the regional rebellion, where residents have been without electricity or running water for two weeks.

Efforts to settle all aspects of the initiative to provide humanitarian assistance to the population of the southeast of Ukraine have entered the final stage, the Russian foreign ministry said.

Officials of the International Red Cross made contact with the convoy Thursday, but the humanitarian organisation said it was seeking a more detailed cargo manifest from Moscow.

Kiev wants observers from the Red Cross and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to be present when Ukrainian customs officers inspect the convoy at the border.

Donetsk, the chief rebel bastion, came under heavy artillery bombardment Thursday, with Ukrainian shells landing in the city centre for the first time since the conflict began in May.

The government of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Donetsk announced Thursday that it accepted the resignation of its top military commander, Igor Strelkov, a Russian citizen and former colonel in Moscow's FSB foreign intelligence service.

Strelkov will be replaced by Vladimir Kononov, a Ukrainian citizen.



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