Fighting intensifies near MH17 crash site

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Fighting intensifies near MH17 crash site
People walk across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
An Ukrainian government army's soldier stands guard next to the cars of Convoy of the OSCE mission in Ukraine at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 31, 2014. Members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine are attempting to reach a place of Malaysia Airlines plane crash.(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A car travels past an Ukrainian government army vehicle near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
An Ukrainian government army' vehicle travels across a damaged bridge near the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
An Ukrainian government army's soldier gestures at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
An Ukrainian government army's soldier stands guard at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A Ukrainian soldier gestures as he controls traffic on July 31, 2014 at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by a team of international monitors reached today the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after days of fierce fighting that had stopped them reaching the area, had prevented them to determine the reason why the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 with 298 people on board, and recover unaccounted for remains. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait to cross a damaged bridge on July 31, 2014 near the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. With hazards including blown-up railway bridges and unexploded shells and mines, the route chosen by international investigators to reach the MH17 crash site on Thursday was fraught with risks. The team-- containing Dutch and Australian experts, as well as monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- left Donetsk early morning on July 31 moving in a convoy of three white SUVs with the OSCE logo on the sides and the roof. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier stands guard with a Ukrainian flag behind him, on July 31, 2014 at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by a team of international monitors reached today the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after days of fierce fighting that had stopped them reaching the area, had prevented them to determine the reason why the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 with 298 people on board, and recover unaccounted for remains. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard near their humvee and military truck on July 31, 2014 at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by a team of international monitors reached today the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after days of fierce fighting that had stopped them reaching the area, had prevented them to determine the reason why the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 with 298 people on board, and recover unaccounted for remains. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard on July 31, 2014 near the convoy of the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) during their mission to reach the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by a team of international monitors reached today the crash site after days of fierce fighting that had stopped them reaching the area, had prevented them to determine the reason why the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 with 298 people on board, and recover unaccounted for remains. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian soldiers stand guard near their tank on July 31, 2014 at a check-point in the village of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by a team of international monitors reached today the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after days of fierce fighting that had stopped them reaching the area, had prevented them to determine the reason why the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 with 298 people on board, and recover unaccounted for remains. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
Ukrainian troops patrol near the village of Novoselovka, some 30 kms from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, on July 31, 2014. Explosions rang out near the crash site of downed flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine as international investigators arrived for the first time in nearly a week after Kiev announced a surprise one-day halt to its offensive against rebels.AFP PHOTO/ GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer stands guard as a woman walks past pieces of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
FILE - This July 19, 2014, file photo shows pro-Russian fighter guarding the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. Ukraine said the passenger plane was shot down as it flew over the country, killing all 298 people on board. A series of unanswered questions about the downing of the flight shows the limits of U.S. intelligence-gathering even when it is intensely focused, as it has been in Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea in March. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka, File)
A Ukrainian volunteer of Donbas Battalion holds up weapons captured from rebels in the city of Lisichansk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Saturday, July 26, 2014. Volunteers from the Donbas Battalion, a volunteer militia for a united Ukraine, told The Associated Press their units, along with the Ukrainian army, regained control of Lisichansk on Friday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A pro-Russian fighters' APC stands abandoned near the city of Lisichansk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Saturday, July 26, 2014. Volunteers from the Donbas Battalion, a volunteer militia for a united Ukraine, told The Associated Press their units, along with the Ukrainian army, regained control of Lisichansk on Friday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Ukrainian government army soldiers patrol in the city of Lisichansk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine Saturday, July 26, 2014. Volunteers from the Donbas Battalion, a volunteer militia for a united Ukraine, told The Associated Press their units, along with the Ukrainian army, regained control of Lisichansk on Friday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
File - This July 17, 2014, file photo shows people walking amongst burning debris at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. Ukraine said the passenger plane was shot down as it flew over the country, killing all 298 people on board. A series of unanswered questions about the downing the flight shows the limits of U.S. intelligence-gathering even when it is intensely focused, as it has been in Ukraine since Russia seized Crimea in March. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)
Damage inflicted where a missile punched, two days before, a gaping hole in the wall of Alexander Litvinenko's ninth-floor apartment, in Donetsk, Ukraine. The 53-year-old college philosophy teacher had just stepped into his study to check the news online, barely escaping death. Others in the residential neighborhood in northwest Donetsk were less fortunate. Five civilians were killed and 12 injured in fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels on Monday, according to the mayor’s office. Residents in the rebel-held city are blaming Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who has promised to stamp out the uprising in the eastern part of the country. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Children walk past a piece of wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines jet downed over Ukraine, in Petropavlivka village, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Wednesday, July 23, 2014. TIndependent military analysts said Wednesday that the size, spread, shape and number of shrapnel impacts visible in an AP photograph of a piece of the wreckage all point to a missile system like the SA-11 Buk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
In this framegrab made from a video provided by press service of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic and icorpus.ru, pro-Russians collect parts of the burning debris of a Ukrainian military fighter jet, shot down at Savur Mogila, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Two Ukrainian military Sukhoi-25 fighters have been shot down in the east, according to the country's Defense Ministry. (AP Photo/icorpus.ru, Press Service of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic)
Police officers secure a refrigerated train loaded with bodies of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 as it arrives in a Kharkiv factory for a stop on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The train carrying the remains of people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash arrived in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday on their way to the Netherlands, a journey which has been agonizingly slow for relatives of the victims. (AP Photo/Olga Ivashchenko)
Ukrainian Ministry Emergency officer, left, Donetsk People's Republic fighter, 2nd left, and members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine examine a map as they discuss the situation around the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch, right, and Australian policemen talk in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch policemen walk in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch investigators examine pieces of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Rassipne, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch policemen walk to their cars in the city of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Sunday, July 27, 2014. A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine cancelled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area. Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the OSCE in Europe, said it would be too dangerous for the unarmed mission to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Dutch and Australian investigators along with members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine examine pieces of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine Friday, July 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
A pro-Russian rebel throws a hat to his comrade to keep uniform formality as the convoy of the OSCE mission in Ukraine approaches to a check-point near the village of Rassipne, near the scene of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
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By DMITRY LOVETSKY and PETER LEONARD

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - Ukrainian armed forces mounted a major onslaught against pro-Russian separatist fighters Sunday in an attempt to gain control over the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed earlier this month.

Reports of the intensifying unrest prompted a postponement of a trip to the site by a team of Dutch and Australian police officers that had planned to start searching for evidence and the remaining bodies.

In Washington, the State Department released satellite images which it says show that Russia has fired rockets more than seven miles (11 kilometers) into eastern Ukraine.

The images, from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. They are said to show strikes between July 21 and July 26.

Ukraine's National Security Council said that government troops have encircled Horlivka, a key rebel stronghold, and that there had been fighting in other cities in the east. Horlivka lies around 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk.

The armed forces "have increased assaults on territory held by pro-Russian mercenaries, destroyed checkpoints and positions and moved very close to Horlivka," the council said in a statement.

A representative of the separatist military command in Donetsk confirmed that there had been fighting in Horlivka, but said that rebel fighters were holding their positions.

Elsewhere, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Sunday that a column of Ukrainian armored personnel carriers, trucks and tanks had entered the town of Shakhtarsk, 10 miles (15 kilometers) west of the site of the Boeing 777 crash.

Shakhtarsk is a strategic town in the area. By controlling the town, the Ukrainian army would cut off vital rebel supply lines.

Local media reported fighting also taking place in the towns of Snizhne and Torez, the two nearest mid-sized towns to the crash site.

The government accused rebel forces of firing rockets Sunday on residential apartment blocks in Horlivka in what they said was an attempt to discredit the army and whip up anti-government sentiment. The separatist self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic" has accused the army of being responsible for that and other rocket attacks in nearby cities.

The Donetsk regional government - which is loyal to Kiev and based elsewhere since rebels took over the area - said Sunday in a statement that at least 13 people, including two children aged 1 and 5, were killed in fighting in Horlivka. It said another five people were killed as a result of clashes in a suburb north of Donetsk.

New York-based Human Rights Watch last week condemned what it said was the Ukrainian government forces' practice of using unguided rockets in populated urban areas. It said that use of the rockets was a violation of international humanitarian law that "may amount to war crimes."

Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down with a surface-to-air missile over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists on July 17, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say it was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.

Ten days after the disaster, a full-fledged investigation still has not begun at the crash site, with some bodies still unrecovered and the site forensically compromised. Concerns about the integrity of the site were raised further when a couple that had flown from their home in Perth, Australia, visited the site Saturday outside the village of Hrabove and even sat on part of plane's wreckage.

It remained unclear when the forensic experts from the Netherlands and Australia would be able to begin their work at the site.

Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said it was too dangerous for the unarmed officers to travel there from their current location in Donetsk.

"We reassess the situation continuously and we will start to redeploy tomorrow morning back to the site if the situation changes," Hug said.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had said earlier Sunday that unarmed Australian police would be part of the Dutch-led police force to secure the area and help recover victims' remains.

Abbott said that by using unarmed police, Ukraine's Parliament will not need to ratify the deployment as it would if the security force were to be armed.

"This is a risky mission. There's no doubt about that," Abbott told reporters. "But all the professional advice that I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed, as part of a police-led humanitarian mission," he said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement that his country would send dozens of police and that his country had received assurances from pro-Russia separatists that they would provide protection for investigators.

Flights from Ukraine to the Netherlands have taken 227 coffins containing victims of the plane disaster. Officials say the exact number of people held in the coffins still needs to be determined by forensic experts in the Netherlands.

The Malaysia Airlines disaster prompted some expectations in the West that Russia would scale back its involvement in the uprising in Ukraine's east, but the opposite seems to be the case.

In addition to producing evidence that rockets have been fired into Ukraine from Russia, the United States has said it has seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the border.

In Warsaw, about 250 people marched through the city to protest what they called the "terror" imposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. Some of the demonstrators carried Ukrainian flags, and there were banners that proclaimed "Putin is a Sponsor of Terror" and "Europe, Stop Just Talking. Start Taking Action! Stop Terror in Ukraine."

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