" --IANS/EFE"
Kiev, Sep 5 (IANS/EFE) Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists continued Friday in eastern Ukraine hours before ceasefire talks were to begin in the Belorussian capital of Minsk.

At least five civilians were killed and nine others wounded in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk which has been under artillery fire for weeks, sources said.

Many buildings and a children's hospital were severely damaged during the latest attack, the city's municipal authorities said.

Reports of the fighting came as representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the pro-Russian separatists met to hammer out the proposed truce.

Among the issues to be discussed were a halt to the fighting, an exchange of prisoners and international monitoring of the region.

Pro-Russian militants were also continuing their attacks against Ukrainian troops in Donetsk who have been deployed at the city's international airport since May.

We continue fighting against the Ukrainian forces holed up inside the airport. Our proposals for them to surrender have been rejected, the defense minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic told the Russian news agency Interfax.

In the third front opened by the rebels off the coast of the Azov Sea, the pro-Russians have advanced over the past several hours from Novoazovsk toward Mariupol, the second largest city in Donetsk and its provisional capital where Ukrainian government agencies have their headquarters.

The OSCE mission in Ukraine said Friday that battles were taking place 20 km from Mariupol, near the towns of Shirokino and Bezymianny, where many homes were destroyed by artillery fire.

If the peace talks succeed, the ceasefire could go into effect later Friday, the Belorussian foreign ministry announced.

It would be the first such truce in the months-old conflict in which hundreds of civilians have died in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk and triggered tensions between Russia and the West.

Ukraine has never wanted war, is tired of war and will do everything possible for peace to come to its land, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday at the NATO summit taking place in Wales.

Poroshenko said he believed that the first step towards peace is a ceasefire; resolute actions will facilitate disarmament, nationwide dialogue (and) adoption of respective legislative acts that will bring continuous stability in Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Also Thursday, the pro-Russian militants expressed their willingness to declare a ceasefire if the Ukrainian Air Force halted its attacks on their territory.

--IANS/EFE

ab/dg


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