HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Bowing to international pressure, pro-Moscow separatists released a train packed with bodies and handed over the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane, four days after it plunged into rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
With body parts decaying in sweltering heat and signs that evidence at the crash site was mishandled, anger in Western capitals has mounted at the rebels and their allies in Moscow. Their reluctant cooperation will soothe mourning families and help investigators, but may do little to reconcile the East-West powers struggling over Ukraine's future.
Russia's Defense Ministry said Monday it saw no evidence a missile was fired and denied involvement in the downing of Flight 17 — and suggested the Ukrainian military was at fault. President Vladimir Putin spoke out but showed no sign of abandoning the separatists as fighting flared anew near the site of the crash.
President Barack Obama accused the rebels of tampering with evidence and insulting victims' families, warning of new sanctions. Europeans will consider their own sanctions Tuesday.
The bodies of the 298 victims, most from the Netherlands, have become a part of the conflict in Ukraine because they could hold evidence of what brought the plane down on July 17 as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Grief turned to anger as families begged to get the bodies of their loved ones back, while the separatists held on to the remains.
"Bodies are just lying there for three days in the hot sun. There are people who have this on their conscience," said Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died on their way to a vacation in Bali, in an interview with The Associated Press in the Netherlands. "When I am in my bed at night, I see my son lying on the ground. ... They have to come home, not only those two. Everybody has to come home."
International forensics experts finally gained access to the crash site Monday — an emotional experience for the head of the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team, Peter Van Vliet. Seeing the wreckage gave him goosebumps, he said.
The team stumbled across remains that had not yet been removed and inspected the perished passengers' luggage.
In Torez, a rebel-held town 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the crash site, inspectors bowed heads and clasped hands before climbing aboard refrigerated train cars holding the collected bodies. Armed rebels surrounded them, while commuters boarded other trains nearby.
The smell of decay was overwhelming. Workers wore masks, while passersby twisted their faces in horror at the odor. Temperatures hit 84 degrees F (29 degrees C), and a train engineer told the AP that a power outage had hit the refrigeration system temporarily overnight.
The rebels in Torez did not appear too conciliatory as the tense day wore on. They repeatedly tried to block reporters from access to the visiting experts, growing more aggressive throughout.
Late Monday, trucks arrived at the Torez station with plastic bags apparently filled with body parts, as well as piles of luggage — suitcases, backpacks, a purse with a Louis Vuitton label.
Ukrainian authorities said the total number of bodies recovered was 282.
Dutch investigators demanded the separatists transfer the bodies immediately, and the rebels complied after several hours.
With a long whistle and puff of smoke, the train bearing the bodies pulled slowly out of the station. Rebels holding automatic rifles walked alongside as it chugged away, a cluster of children on bicycles looking on.
It was headed through troubled territory, its destination not 100 percent clear.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the train was heading for the rebel-held city of Donetsk, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the crash site, and then on to Kharkiv, site of a crisis center controlled by the Ukrainian government. He said Ukrainian authorities have agreed to let the bodies be transferred from there to the Netherlands for identification, but gave no time frame.
Early Tuesday, the rebels handed over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators in Donetsk. A rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, said the orange-colored flight recorders were being handed over to Malaysian officials on the condition that they would be delivered to experts at the International Civil Aviation Organization.
"I can see that the black box is intact even though a little bit damaged, but in a good condition," Col. Mohamad Sakri of the Malaysian National Security Council. He added that the number one priority was for the bodies of the victims to be delivered to Amsterdam.
Earlier Monday, a team of international observers at the sprawling crash site described strange behavior by workers.
"When we were leaving, we observed workers there hacking into the fuselage with gas-powered equipment," OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told reporters in Donetsk.
He said there was no security perimeter Monday at one of the bigger debris fields, and monitors saw that one of the largest pieces of the plane "had somewhat been split or moved apart."
In Washington, Obama asked, "What exactly are they trying to hide?"
"This is an insult to those who have lost loved ones. This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations," he said.
On Sunday, the U.S. said there was "powerful" evidence that the rebels had shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile, including video of a rocket launcher, one surface-to-air missile missing, being driven away from the likely launch site; imagery showing the firing; phone calls claiming credit for the missile strike and phone recordings said to reveal a cover-up at the crash site.
The Russian Defense Ministry offered its own evidence Monday, showing photos it said proved that Ukrainian surface-to-air systems were operating in the area before the crash — nine times alone the day the plane was brought down.
Russian officials also said they had evidence a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet had flown "between 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles)" from the Malaysia Airlines jet.
"(The plane) is armed with air-to-air R-60 rockets, which can hit a target from a distance of up to 12 kilometers (7 miles) and guaranteed within 5 kilometers (3 miles)," said the chief of Russia's General staff, Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartopolov.
Defense Ministry officials insisted Russia had not given the rebels any surface-to-air missiles — and said they have no evidence that any missiles were launched at all. They asked the U.S. to share any satellite images of the launch.
Putin accused others of exploiting the downing of the plane for "mercenary objectives." He said Kiev authorities had reignited the fighting after a unilateral cease-fire expired without progress on peace talks.
At the U.N., the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution demanding international access to the crash site and an end to military activities around the area, following intense pressure on a reluctant Russia to support the measure.
Fighting in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimean Peninsula a month earlier.
Battles erupted again Monday between the separatists and government troops in Donetsk, according to city authorities. An AP reporter heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from the direction of the city airport.
___David McHugh in Kiev, Laura Mills and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Lucian Kim in Donetsk, Ukraine, Alexandra Olson at the United Nations and Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed to this report.
A document shows that EU sanctions ar targeting Russian businesses, the AP reports:
A European Union document shows that among those targeted by the EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban are Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security.
Also targeted is Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB service that oversees international operations and intelligence activity.
Associated Press journalists in Ukraine saw a BUK missile system -- the type that the US says downed Flight MH17 -- in rebel hands just hours before the plane was shot down, the news agency says in detailed account of the day's events. AP says that while the rebels officially deny responsibility, "the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official." Further, one rebel official told AP that they were behind the plane tragedy.
More from the AP story:
A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.
The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.
Read the full account here.
In a briefing on Friday, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there has been a "steady flow" of weapons from Russia into Ukraine, and emphasized the position that Russia played a role in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch reports.
Russia 'culpable' for Malaysia Air jet downed in Ukraine: White House http://t.co/bJR9bYh7js
— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch) July 25, 2014
The Pentagon said on Friday that the transfer of missile systems from Russia to separatists in Ukraine appeared to be imminent. On Thursday, the U.S. claimed that Russia had fired on Ukrainian military positions.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 25, 2014
Ukraine's security service, SBU, on Friday released a recording it said was of a phone call between pro-Russian separatists discussing a plane overhead, minutes before the Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over east Ukraine. “I see… Roger... Report it upstairs,” the rebel commander says, according to a translation.
Writing for Mashable, Christopher Miller notes that the recording has not been authenticated and the commander "stops short of giving the order to shoot down Flight 17," however the implication is clearly to build a case that the rebels shot down the plane.
Responding to U.S. officials assertion that Russia was firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions across the border, Russia on Friday countered by calling the claim a baseless "smear campaign,"AFP reports.
A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said, "Due to the smear campaign against us that the US Administration has begun... we reject the unfounded public insinuations that US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," adding that Harf has used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches," to influence perceptions of Russia. The statement refuted the U.S. State Departments claim on Russia targeting Ukraine military, saying "There are no facts or specifics about these falsehoods."
More from AFP.
-- Andrew Hart
#BREAKING: More than 15,000 Russian troops amassed along border with Ukraine: U.S. ambassador to NATO
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 25, 2014
The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy caliber multiple launch rocket systems from
Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent, with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over "potentially today."
"We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple launch rocket systems in the very near future," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range.
Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and "potentially today."
"We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment," he said.
Pentagon: Russia readying powerful weapons for rebels in Ukraine, transfer could happen any time. http://t.co/xZnfkBUWSV
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) July 25, 2014
(Reuters) - Australia will send 100 additional police and some defense force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, some of whom will be armed, will join a contingent of 90 AFP officers already in London waiting for a deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to be approved by Ukraine's parliament.
"This is a humanitarian mission, with a clear and simple objective," Abbott told reporters. "I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks."
Read the full story here.
A leading Russian newspaper has issued an apology on its front page, asking for forgiveness from the people of the Netherlands who lost their loved ones in the Malaysian Airlines plane crash. The front page of Novaya Gazeta on Friday featured the words "Vergeef ons, Nederlands" (Forgive Us, Netherlands) in bold above a heartbreaking image of the line of hearses carrying MH17 victim's bodies.
Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.
CNN reports that the European Union slapped sanctions on 15 more people and 18 entities due to the Ukraine crisis, according to an announcement Friday. Already 87 people have been subject to EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans, as well as 20 entities, CNN said.
FIFA rejected calls to move the 2018 World Cup from Russia, saying the tournament "can achieve positive change."
Russia's alleged involvement in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last week prompted calls from some lawmakers in Germany to review the country's hosting rights.
On Friday, FIFA issued a statement saying it "deplores any form of violence" and questioning the purpose of relocating the sport's showcase tournament.
"History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems," FIFA said, adding that global attention on the World Cup "can be a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments."
New York-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch has accused both Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels of using unguided Grad rockets, which they said had killed 16 civilians and wounded many more. “Grad rockets are notoriously imprecise weapons that shouldn’t be used in populated areas,” HRW researcher Ole Solvang said in a statement. "Ukrainian authorities should order all their forces, including volunteer forces, to immediately stop using Grads in or near populated areas, and insurgent forces should avoid deploying in densely populated areas," he added.
A view of proceedings during a memorial service held for victims of the MH17 disaster at St Mary's Cathedral on July 25, 2014 in Perth, Australia. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Russia said around 40 mortar shells fired by Ukrainian forces fell on Friday in its Rostov province near the border with eastern Ukraine where Kiev is fighting pro-Russian separatists.
"Around 40 mortar shells have fallen from Ukraine ... in Rostov province," Vasily Malayev, a representative of the region's Federal Security Service devoted to border security, was cited by the state Ria Novosti news agency as saying.
In a statement on Friday, the headquarters of the government's military operation in the east listed at least seven locations where rebels attacked Ukrainian troops. They also claimed that attacks on two locations including a border crossing were supported by artillery fire from Russia.
Late on Thursday, Ukrainian troops entered the town of Lysychansk, which has been in rebel hands for several months, the military press office said. Rebels on Friday morning admitted in comments carried by Interfax that they had to flee the town which is 70 kilometers (45 miles) north-west of the regional capital Luhansk.
The Associated Press reports the countries of the European Union have reached a preliminary deal to impose more sanctions on Russia.
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union ambassadors have reached a preliminary deal on stepped-up sanctions against Russia, targeting its access to European capital markets and trade in the defense sector, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies.
EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic says the proposals were transmitted Friday to EU officials to codify into regulations, with the ambassadors scheduled to meet again Tuesday to review the results. She said EU member states must decide whether the measures need to be approved by a summit meeting of the trade bloc's 28 member countries to go into effect.
The ambassadors also ordered EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans for an undisclosed number of Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians who are accused of undermining Ukraine's sovereignty. The names of those affected should be made public later Friday.
The black box flight recorders from the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet suffered slight damage in the attack and crash, Reuters reported.
"During the inspection it was established that the recorders have slight mechanical damage which did not affect the intactness of the recorders," Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee, a supervisory body that oversees the use and management of civil aviation, stated.
FMI: Click here.
Two more planes arrived in the Netherlands carrying the remains of victims on Thursday, AP reports:
Human remains continue to be found a full week after the plane went down, underlining concerns about the halting and chaotic recovery effort at the sprawling site spread across farmland in eastern Ukraine. Armed separatists control the area and have hindered access by investigators.
President Barack Obama spoke with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the phone and they agreed that more sanctions need to be imposed on Russia, Reuters reports:
"Instead of de-escalating the situation, they agreed that all evidence indicates Russia is still arming and supplying separatists who continue to engage in deadly acts of aggression against Ukrainian armed forces," the White House said.
Foreign correspondents report shelling in the city of Donetsk on Thursday night.
The soothing lullaby of shelling. The war creeps close and closer to Donetsk city centre.
— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) July 24, 2014
Midnight in Donetsk. Sustained, low rumble of shelling in the distance. Going to be a long summer.
— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 24, 2014
This is easily the loudest and longest fire I've heard in Donetsk.
— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 24, 2014
Dutch sending 40 unarmed military police to #MH17 crash site, want to "stabilise area": PM Rutte
— Charles Onians (@charlesonians) July 24, 2014
Gunmen chased investigators from the site where the Malaysian airliner crashed and "lunatics" were still making life difficult for those who wanted to find out what downed flight MH17, officials said on Thursday.
As foreign ministers from Australia and the Netherlands met Ukrainian officials to coordinate the investigation, the head of Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service and the chief of a Dutch police mission said their work at the site was being hampered.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, however, said there had been no incidents, and that they had been joined by experts from Malaysia and Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash.
The West has called for a thorough investigation into the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine to get justice for the 298 people who were killed, but have voiced concern that the rebels were preventing investigators from doing their job.
"They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp," Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of the emergencies service, told a news conference in the eastern city of Kharkiv from where the remains of the victims are starting their journey home.
"We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint."
He did not say when this happened.
Read the full story here.
U.S. says it has evidence Russian artillery is firing across border to attack Ukrainian military: State Dept.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 24, 2014
A convoy of hearses carry bodies and remains from those killed on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on July 24, 2014 in Boxtel, Netherlands. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Dutch military personnel carry coffins containing the remains of the victims of the MH17 plane crash to a waiting hearse at the airbase in Eindhoven on July 24, 2014. (MARCEL VAN HOORN/AFP/Getty Images)
The Washington Post has an infographic showing information surrounding each of the aircraft that have been shot in Ukraine since May 2.
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 24, 2014
Investigators looking into the downing of MalaysiaAirlines flight MH17 have found no evidence that either of the aircraft's two black boxes were tampered with, the Dutch Safety Board, which is coordinating the investigation, said.
In a statement on Thursday, the Board said the data from theBoeing 777's flight data recorder had been successfully downloaded by investigators at Britain's Air Accident Investigation Branch. The other voice recorder was successfully read the day before.
World leaders had expressed concern that the black boxes, which could contain data vital to ascertaining the cause of the crash, may have been manipulated by Moscow-backed rebels who control the territory in which the aircraft crashed last week.
BREAKING: Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says he is resigning.
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 24, 2014
(Reuters) - Russia will cooperate with the investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner a week ago and is satisfied that the Netherlands, rather than Ukraine, is leading the effort, the country's ambassador to Malaysia said on Thursday.
The norm under rules set down by the United Nation's civil aviation body (ICAO) is that an air investigation is led by the state in whose territory the plane crash, but Russia had said that Ukraine should not take charge because the rebels who control the crash site did not trust the authorities in Kiev.
Read the full story here.