Pope Francis decries Ukraine crisis as a 'war among Christians' as shelling of Donetsk hospital 'kills five'

Pope calls for prayers for peace

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The Independent Online

Pope Francis has denounced the surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine, saying it is a "scandal" that Christians are fighting among themselves.

During his weekly general audience on Wednesday, Francis called for greater international efforts to bring Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops back to negotiations.

Francis said: "I think about you, Ukrainian brothers and sisters, and I think that this is a war among Christians! You have the same baptism, and you're fighting among Christians. Think about this, this scandal."

In urging prayers for peace, he said prayer was a "protest before God in times of war."

The UN says indiscriminate shelling and an escalation in the fighting have killed at least 224 civilians in the past three weeks, raising the overall death toll to 5,358 people since April.

 

Heavy shelling in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine today killed at least five people and damaged a hospital, six schools and five kindergartens, local officials said.

The fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine resumed in January after a month of relative calm, killing more than 200 people in the past three weeks, according to the United Nations.

The city hall in Donetsk said the number of casualties from Wednesday's shelling in the west part of Donetsk early afternoon was not immediately established but the rebel-run Donetsk News Agency reported five killed inside and near the hospital in Tekstilshchik district.

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Five people were reportedly killed at a hospital in Donetsk

As the conflict intensifies, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he is confident that the United States will agree to send weapons to his country to help it fight pro-Russian rebels, a step the Americans reportedly are considering.

On a visit to a government-controlled city in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, Poroshenko said that his government badly needs the lethal aid to help repel the separatist attacks in the conflict that that has left 5,300 people dead.

U.S. President Barack Obama has opposed sending lethal assistance to Ukraine's government, but a senior administration official told The Associated Press earlier this week the surge in fighting has spurred the White House to review the policy.

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The damaged hospital in Donetsk

Poroshenko will have an opportunity on Thursday to make his case to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is scheduled to visit Kiev.

"I don't have a slightest doubt that the decision to supply Ukraine with weapons will be made by the United States as well as by other partners of ours," he said on a visit to Kharkiv, "because we need to have the capabilities to defend ourselves."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday said that she was opposed to the idea.

In Kiev, military spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said two Ukrainian troops have been killed and 18 injured in the past 24 hours. The most intense fighting is now focused about the railway hub of Debaltseve where, according to Seleznev, the rebels mounted an offensive against Ukrainian troops.

In Donetsk, separatist official Eduard Basurin told reporters that four civilians have been killed in the past days before Wednesday's shelling.

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