2 more Ukrainian troops killed in eastern Ukraine

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MOSCOW (AP) — At least two Ukrainian troops have been killed and three injured in the past 24 hours in renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine, an official said Friday.

Fighting between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government troops has killed more than 9,600 people since the conflict began in April 2014. A 2015 cease-fire deal did not completely stop fighting but did lower its intensity.

Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian defense ministry, said in a statement that Ukrainian casualties continue to mount after what Kiev says was a rebel offensive southeast of the rebel stronghold Donetsk.

A total of eight troops have been killed outside the town of Svitlodarsk since fighting began there Sunday, Lysenko said. Rebels have accused the Ukrainian government of launching an attack on their positions there.

Rebels and Ukrainian government representatives at talks mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Wednesday agreed on a new cease-fire across eastern Ukraine that is set to begin Saturday.

State Department spokesman John Kirby on Thursday lauded the agreement and said the U.S. hopes it "will mark the beginning of sustained quiet at the line of contact to allow Ukrainians on both sides of the line to live in peace and security."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday said he hoped Wednesday's deal, which comes into effect on the eve of New Year's and Christmas festivities in Ukraine, "will help make the ceasefire permanent."

In Moscow, Russian news agencies quoted presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Friday that Vladimir Putin also welcomes the cease-fire deal.

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