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Fighting intensifies near MH17 crash site


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."

Join the discussion

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tcellguru July 27 2014 at 1:26 PM

The only way Obama will intervene is if they start hitting golf courses and Demoncrat fund raising sites.

Flag Reply +28 rate up
14 replies
CherMoeLin July 27 2014 at 1:05 PM

It's kind of "silly" to call them "separatists" when these people are totally pro-Russian and are working on behalf of Putin to gain more control in the Ukraine. At least, this is my humble opinion. It's just like in America ... the Cliven Bundy's & the gun radicals here are TERRORISTS. To call them by any other name is false. They are ANTI-AMERICAN and refuse to abide by the rules of society in order to maintain our civilization and protect our people. Instead, they are AGAINST our own people but claim to be against "government control." They want to have all the things Americans enjoy but without contributing towards those services.

Flag Reply +18 rate up
10 replies
ergt86 July 27 2014 at 2:29 PM

The World is at war and the U.S. is downsizing it's military and has it's head up it's rear-end.

Flag Reply +16 rate up
5 replies
bknab101 July 27 2014 at 3:05 PM

I saw some recent polls yesterday, all pretty much the same- between 70 and 75% of American Registered voters that were polled say Putin has the upper hand over Obama on the Ukraine issue,,, this is nothing to rejoice about, its freaking SAD! its Pathetic that we have such low credibility and such a low level of influence there,,, especially as compared to PUTIN.

Flag Reply +12 rate up
4 replies
D B Cooper July 27 2014 at 2:14 PM

Dear old dad, who served in the US Army in WWII, used to say, with proven wisdom; 'Never hit a seventeen and never trust the Rooskies.'

Words to live by, even today.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
PeopleSmoks July 27 2014 at 4:15 PM

Ukrainian Nazi president Poroshenko called for a cease fire in a 25 mile radius of the crash site hoping the freedom fighters would let down their guard, and then sends the military to attack knowing the west will blame the freedom fighters.

Is it possible that Poroshenko doesn't want OSCE to investigate because it may turn out to have been a missile from a Ukrainian fighter plane that shot down the passenger jet afterall?

Flag Reply +7 rate up
9 replies
crfcron July 27 2014 at 1:48 PM

It's just stupid & careless on the part of Malaysina Airlines company to fly over a war zone in the Ukraine , I would say they should share the blame. for being so careless and should be sued for their poor Judgement call.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
3 replies
cabinsmoke July 27 2014 at 8:24 PM

Lots of Obama supporters here today. Do the pot shops close on Sunday?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
ronbo681 cabinsmoke July 27 2014 at 9:52 PM

Welfare is running out for the month. They can't go to their favorite steakhouse.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
ronbo681 July 27 2014 at 4:42 PM

Obama is a man of peace unless you live in one of the countries whose governments he helped overthrow. There are 52 million refugees in the world today. That is the most since WW2. There are 41 wars raging in the world. To more years of his foreign policy and it may be even worse.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
donpantanella July 27 2014 at 2:36 PM

The "Human Rights Watch" and the UN...two worthless organizations that pretend to do one thing while doing another. Pay attention to the "Human Rights Watch" and ytou will see that they are always on the side of terrorists and murderers.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
calderasf donpantanella July 27 2014 at 4:13 PM


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