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Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Black Boxes Recovered By Rebels, Bodies Kept In Rebel-Held Town

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TOREZ, Ukraine - Rebels in eastern Ukraine took control Sunday of the bodies recovered from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and the U.S. and European leaders demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin make sure rebels give international investigators full access to the crash site.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Ukraine's separatists were to blame for the downing of the aircraft, adding there was "extraordinary circumstantial evidence'' that showed Russia was almost certainly complicit in arming the rebels.

"There's a stacking up of evidence here, which Russia needs to help account for. We are not drawing the final conclusion here. But there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible,'' Kerry said on NBC's "Meet the Press'' television show.

The key question of who controlled the collection of evidence at the sprawling crash site in rebel-held territory dominated the day's rapid-fire developments. International monitors say armed rebels have limited their access to the crash site and Ukrainian officials said armed rebels took the bodies away from their workers by force.

Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet (10,000 metres) above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight - 283 passengers and 15 crew - were killed.

A wave of international outrage over how the bodies of the plane crash victims were being handled came amid fears that the armed rebels who control the crash site could be tampering with the evidence there.

Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Borodai said the bodies recovered from the crash site would remain in four refrigerated train cars in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the crash site, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.

"The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive,'' Borodai said, speaking in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

He also said the plane's black boxes have been recovered and will be handed over to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive. He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.

Ukrainian government officials, meanwhile, prepared a disaster crisis centre in the government-held city of Kharkiv, expecting to receive the bodies, but those hopes appeared delayed or even dashed Sunday.

Deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman said 192 bodies and eight body parts were loaded onto the railway cars.

The leaders of France, Germany and Britain issued a statement demanding that Putin make sure that pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine give full access to investigators at the Malaysian plane crash site or risk the ire of Europe.

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French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed Sunday to demand that Putin force separatists controlling the site to "finally allow rescuers and investigators to have free and total access to the zone.''

A statement from Hollande's office said if Russia fails "to immediately take the needed measures, consequence will be drawn'' at an EU foreign ministers meeting Tuesday.

Ukraine says Russia has been sending sophisticated arms to the rebels, a charge that Moscow denies.

The U.S. embassy in Kyiv issued a strong statement Sunday saying it has concluded "that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.'' It said over the weekend of July 12-13, "Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armoured personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rockets launchers'' to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters in southwest Russia, including on air defence systems.

The rebels have been strictly limiting the movements of international monitors and journalists at the crash site, which is near the Russian border.

Associated Press journalists saw reeking bodies baking in the summer heat Saturday, piled into body bags by the side of the road or still sprawled where they landed in the verdant farmland in eastern Ukraine after their plane was shot out of the sky.

By Sunday morning, AP journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels at the crash site. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts. Heavy machinery was seen moving plane debris around.

There was no immediate word on the bodies of the 102 other plane victims, but Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said some bodies have likely been incinerated without a trace.

"We're looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized,'' he told reporters in Kyiv on Sunday, speaking via phone from the crash site.

Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts Sunday, told the AP it took the rebels several hours Saturday to cart away the bodies. He said he and other workers had no choice but to hand them over.

"They are armed and we are not,'' Pilyushny said.

Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a duty officer at the train station in Torez, said emergency workers loaded plane victims' bodies Sunday into four sealed, refrigerated train cars.

Adding to growing claims that pro-Russian rebels have attempted to interfere with evidence, Ukraine's security services released on Sunday purported intercepts of phone conversations between rebel militants discussing the location of the plane's black boxes.

In one exchange, a man identified as the leader of the rebel Vostok Battalion Alexander Khodakovsky states that two recording devices are being held by the head of intelligence of the insurgency's military commander. The commander is then heard to order the militiaman to ensure no outsiders, including an international observation team near the crash site at the reported time of the call, get hold of any material.

The man identified as Khodakovsky says he is pursuing enquiries about the black boxes under instructions from "our high-placed friends ... in Moscow.'' The security service says all the recordings were made on Friday.

Vasily Khoma, deputy of governor of the Kharkiv region where Ukraine has set up a crisis centre to handle the disaster, said the Ukrainian state railway company had provided the refrigerated train cars. Kharkiv is 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of the crash site.

He said no information was available on when airplane parts would be brought to the city and that the priority now was on recovering bodies. He said a mobile lab to handle DNA analysis was being delivered from Dnipropetrovsk.

In a blistering article for the Sunday Times, Cameron called the attack a "direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them.''

"We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action,'' the British leader wrote.

In a coded rebuke of Merkel and other European leaders who have blocked efforts to impose tougher sanctions on Putin for Russia's actions in Ukraine, Cameron said Europe must now "respond robustly.''

In the Netherlands, worshippers at church services across the country prayed Sunday for the victims of the Ukraine air disaster and their next of kin, as anger built over the rebels' hindering of the investigation.

At the St. Vitus church in the central city of Hilversum, Father Julius Dresme summed up the nation's pain.

"It's terrible, and everybody's hearts are bleeding and crying,'' he said.

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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.

Read the full story here.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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

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Reuters reports:

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.

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Reuters reports:

(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.

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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.

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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.

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From the Associated Press:

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."

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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.

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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)

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Reuters reports:

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.

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From the Associated Press:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Read the full story here.

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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.

Read more here.

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07/24/2014 5:48 PM EDT
Shelling In Donetsk

Foreign correspondents report shelling in the city of Donetsk on Thursday night.



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Reuters reports:

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.

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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)

netherlands
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)

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The Washington Post has an infographic showing information surrounding each of the aircraft that have been shot in Ukraine since May 2.

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From Reuters:

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.

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(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.

Reuters explains:

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.

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07/24/2014 9:35 AM EDT
Fixer For CNN Abducted
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