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Ukraine Rebels Hold European Observers Hostage

Clashes in eastern Ukraine are escalating; Israel evacuated six Jews ready for aliyah earlier this week.

Separatist fighters in the eastern Ukraine region of Donetsk confirmed Thursday they are holding four missing observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as hostages.

The pro-Russian rebels also shot down a Ukrainian government military helicopter Thursday during heavy clashes around the city of Sloviansk – located in the northern part of the Donetsk province — killing 14 people. Among the dead was General Volodymyr Kulchitsky, the BBC reported. The rebels allegedly used a Russian-made anti-aircraft system.

There has been heavy fighting over the past several weeks in the area, located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Ukraine’s border with Russia.

According to reports by the Associated Press, residents in Sloviansk – a hotbed of separatist forces — have been regularly shelled with mortar fire by government forces. Civilian casualties have been high, and some residents are fleeing, according to the reports.

The Jewish Agency for Israel evacuated a couple with two twin baby girls from the city of Donetsk (capital of the province) and another couple from the city of Mariupol, south of Donetsk city, out of Ukraine in a rescue operation earlier this week. The six were already set for aliyah, but the decision to rescue them was made due to the fierce battle that started over the Donetsk airport between Ukraine’s army and pro-Russian militants. They traveled overland to the Kiev airport and then flew from there on to Israel.

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