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As Cease-Fire Nears, Europe Warily Watches Fighting In Ukraine

A Ukrainian government soldier waves to an armored vehicle on a road near the town of Artemivsk, Ukraine, Friday. Fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces has continued despite the agreement reached by leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in the Belarusian capital of Minsk Thursday.

Two days before a cease-fire is set to take effect in eastern Ukraine, forces on both sides are fighting over strategic territory they hope to control after the peace begins. A truce between the government and Russian-backed separatists is set to begin Sunday.

Despite Thursday's apparent breakthrough, "The enemy shelled positions of the 'anti-terrorist operation' forces with the same intensity as before," a Ukrainian military official said Friday, according to Reuters.

The news agency reports that fighting continued at separatist strongholds such as Donetsk, and at other sites such as a railway junction. The clashes followed reports that more Russian equipment had been sent across the border to separatist-controlled areas shortly after the temporary peace was announced.

There are also concerns about the terms of the cease-fire. From Brussels, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports for our Newscast unit:

"Some feel the deal, reached after 16 hours of negotiations among the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, may give too much to Russia and the pro-Russian rebels.

"Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko says they did what they had to, in order to stop the fighting.

"'We managed to get the sides to commit to the ceasefire,' he says, 'and this wasn't easy task, because other side was not inclined to stop the aggression.'"

Both U.S. and European leaders say that they're waiting to see actions that match the the cease-fire's peaceful intentions.

European Council President Donald Tusk says the EU will go ahead with sanctions "against 19 Russian and Ukrainian individuals and nine entities next week," France 24 reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. "is prepared to consider rolling back sanctions on Russia when the Minsk agreements of September 2014, and now this agreement, are fully implemented."

"The parties have a long road ahead," Kerry said, explaining later that the conditions for sanctions to be eased include "a full ceasefire, the withdrawal of all foreign troops and equipment from Ukraine, the full restoration of Ukrainian control of the international border and the release of all hostages."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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