Self-proclamed Donetsk People’s Republic policemen watch refugees fleeing Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday. An international police team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area.
SHAKHTARSK, Ukraine — Heavy fighting raged Monday around the Malaysia Airlines debris field, once again preventing an international police team charged with securing the site from even getting there.
Government troops have stepped up their push to win back territory from pro-Russian separatists in fighting that the United Nations said Monday has killed more than 1,100 people in four months.
The international delegation of Australian and Dutch police and forensic experts stopped Monday in Shakhtarsk, a town around 20 miles (30 kilometers) from the fields where the Boeing 777 was brought down.
Sounds of regular shelling could be heard from Shakhtarsk and residents were seen fleeing town in cars. Associated Press reporters saw a high-rise apartment block in Shakhtarsk being hit by at least two rounds of artillery.
The mandate of the police team is to secure the currently rebel-controlled area so that comprehensive investigations can begin and any remaining bodies can be recovered.
The second cancelled site visit over two days has strained tempers among the observation team.
“There is a job to be done,” said Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “We are sick and tired of being interrupted by gunfights, despite the fact that we have agreed that there should be a ceasefire.”
Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council, denied that Ukrainian forces are fighting within the 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius around the crash site where President Petro Poroshenko last week said there would be a cease-fire to allow investigators to work.
“Ukrainian forces are not conducting combat operations in the area where the plane crashed,” he told a briefing. “There is a ban on this.” He said, however, that rebels were shelling the area.
The Defense Ministry says Ukrainian troops have entered Shakhtarsk, although checkpoints blocking the western entrance into town remain under rebel control. It also said fighting was taking place in Snizhne, which lies directly south of the crash site, and in other towns in the east.
Rebels in Donetsk said on Twitter that fighting was ongoing in the village of Rozsypne, where some of the wreckage still lays strewn and uncollected.
A rebel military leader, Igor Ivanov, told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti that the village had fallen into government hands, but that information could not immediately be confirmed.
Ukraine has accused rebels of tampering with evidence at the plane crash site and trying to cover up their alleged role in bringing the Malaysia Airlines jet down with an anti-aircraft missile, killing 298 people. Officials claim the missile system that allegedly shot down the plane either came from Russia or was operated under Russian direction. Separatist officials have staunchly denied responsibility.
As allegations persist that Russia is supplying weapons to the rebels and allowing Russian fighters to cross into Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it plans to begin deploying a border-observation mission on the Russian side on Tuesday. The mission is to be deployed at two checkpoints and it is unclear if they will be able to assess whether the border is being crossed at areas without checkpoints.
A Ukrainian security spokesman said Monday that data from the recovered flight recorders shows Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed due to a massive, explosive loss of pressure after being punctured multiple times by shrapnel. Andrei Lysenko said the plane suffered “massive explosive decompression” after it was hit by fragments he said came from a missile.MORE IN Wire NewsPESCARA DEL TRONTO, Italy — Aftershocks in central Italy rattled residents and rescue workers... Full StoryALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Full StoryMANCHESTER, N.H. Full Story
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