Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush

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Ambush Near MH17 Kills Ukrainian Soldiers

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) -- A team of several dozen international investigators descended Friday on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine to begin combing an area now designated as a crime scene.

A few hours earlier, at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by pro-Russian separatist rebels in a town close to the wreckage site.

Investigators from the Netherlands and Australia, along with accompanying officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, traveled in 15 cars and one bus to the crash site, outside the village of Hrabove.

Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush
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 midday, they began setting up base there for an operation that will initially focus on recovering several dozen bodies still remaining. The team also aims to retrieve the belongings of the 298 people killed when the Boeing 777 was shot down last month.

A small advance team managed to perform an initial survey of the area for the first time Thursday. For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been decaying in the 90-degree (32 C) midsummer heat. Independent observers warned that there has been tampering with evidence.

An Australian police official told reporters Friday that the wreckage would be officially designated a crime scene and that it would be divided into zones that will be systematically searched for evidence.

It is believed up to 80 bodies may still remain uncollected at the crash site, which is sprawled in a broad area across fields between two villages.

The team's drive to the area took them from their base in the rebel capital of Donetsk, through the government-held town of Debaltseve, and back into the separatist-controlled territory, where the wreckage lies. At Debaltseve, the convoy was joined by three vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Despite both sides in the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine tentatively agreeing to a cease-fire around the crash zone, fighting is continuing nearby.

Civilians in Ukraine Flee Fighting

The deadly attack by rebels on government troops Friday morning took place less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the crash site, outside the town of Shakhtarsk, which has been the object of sustained battles for several days and still remains in rebel hands.

Defense officials said in a statement that an army convoy was struck by mortars during redeployment.

Ukraine security spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said the attack took place at 6 a.m., before the end of the 24-hour "day of quiet" declared Thursday in response to a call for a cease-fire from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

"The militants are behaving in a cowardly and shameless fashion," Seleznev said. "The used the `day of quiet' just to fire on us."

Ukrainian forces have latterly focused their strategy on driving a wedge into an area between the largest rebel-controlled cities, Donetsk and Luhansk. Shakhtarsk lies on one of two highways linking those cities.

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