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Bridge blasts block roads to pro-Russia rebel stronghold of Donetsk

| Monday, July 7, 2014, 5:36 p.m.

DONETSK, Ukraine — Because of the Ukrainian forces' seizure of a key rebel stronghold in the east, the major cities of Donetsk and Luhansk could be the next focus of major fighting.

Three bridges on roads leading to Donetsk were blown up on Monday, possibly to hinder military movements, though the rebels claim it was the work of pro-Kiev saboteurs.

As nerves fray over the prospect of fighting in the sprawling cities, Russia urged Europe to put pressure on the government to end the fighting but took no overt action. Rebels in Ukraine and nationalists at home have called for the Kremlin to send in troops to protect pro-Russia insurgents, but President Vladimir Putin, wary of more sanctions from the West, has resisted.

Separatist fighters driven out of the city of Slovyansk and eastern towns by the Ukrainian army during the weekend are regrouping in Donetsk, a major industrial city of 1 million where pro-Russia rebels have declared independence as the Donetsk People's Republic. Pavel Gubarev, the region's self-described governor, had promised “real partisan war around the perimeter of Donetsk” before thousands of supporters at a rally on Sunday.

Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, say their strategy is to blockade Donetsk and the rebel-held city of Luhansk, the two largest cities in the separatist east, in order to cut off rebel supply lines.

Ukraine's government ended a shaky, unilateral 10-day cease-fire last week and has stepped up its fight against the rebels.

It was not clear who blew up the bridges. Their destruction would most benefit the rebels by blocking avenues for military advances, but the Donetsk People's Republic issued a statement blaming two of the blasts on Ukrainians aiming to interfere with rebel supply lines.

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