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MH17: International investigators reach Malaysia Airlines crash site amid shelling

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Updated August 01, 2014 10:41:08A small Australian and Dutch reconnaissance team has reached the cra...

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  • MH17: International investigators reach Malaysia Airlines crash site amid shelling Updated August 01, 2014 10:41:08 A small Australian and Dutch reconnaissance team has reached the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after four days of failed attempts to make it across a battlefront to the wreckage. The Ukrainian parliament on Thursday gave the go-ahead for Australian police and investigators to go to the crash site as part of an international recovery operation. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told Lateline the advance party had arrived and reported hearing shelling near the crash site in the "middle of a war zone". She said there was "fighting going on" - despite Ukraine's military announcing a day-long pause in its offensive to oust pro-Russian rebels in the country's east. The main group of investigators continue to be frustrated in their attempts to reach the site and have been unable to leave the city of Donetsk. In a statement, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) monitors, along with four Australian and Dutch experts, had arrived safely at the crash site using a new access route. The small scouting team took more than six hours to check roads and find a way past various battlefronts. Ms Bishop told Lateline the mission was "extremely dangerous". "They are in the middle of a military conflict that has been raging for months so it's an exceedingly dangerous mission but we are determined not to take unacceptable risks," she said. "We are negotiating every step of the way with the Ukraine government and with the separatists and we are doing this day by day."
  • Spurred on by the success of a small team in reaching the MH17 crash site, inspectors will now try again to push through battle lines in bigger numbers. Investigators will try and secure a guarantee of no fighting along their designated route. But heavy fighting continues on all sides of the crash area. Wheat fields containing debris and potentially human remains have caught fire. The Australian police officers have also received approval to carry weapons from Ukraine's parliament, although Ms Bishop said they would only be armed "if necessary". "What this [vote] means is that we have an insurance policy in place that, if necessary, only if necessary, both the Dutch and the Australian personnel can bring arms into the country," she said earlier on Thursday. "But we are not taking arms onto the site. Our convoy will not be armed. It's a police-led humanitarian mission." A total of 38 Australian citizens and residents were among the 298 people killed when the plane was shot down. The Government says the remains of up to 80 bodies are yet to be recovered, and it is determined to return those victims to their homes. Ms Bishop says the team will begin on Friday (local time) to retrieve bodies and belongings known to be at the site, and to gather evidence required for an investigation. "They have a very challenging task ahead of them to be investigating a crash site that is now two weeks out," she said. Palmer urges return of AFP 'before something happens to them' Analysis: Phil Williams The ABC correspondent told ABC News 24 the situation is fluid: This was supposed to be a day of ceasefire. Well, while they were on the site, they could hear fighting. As soon as they left the site we're told fighting resumed on the site. So it's still an extremely volatile area. There's a plan to get the 50, the whole group there, but of course it all depends on the situation. It's an hour to hour, minute to minute proposition and they could be turned back at any time as they have in the last five days. As we've been told repeatedly by the Foreign Minister, by the PM, it's a case of getting in, do the job and get out. If only they could.
  • And we simply don't know at this stage how long this process is going to take, or whether in fact they may have to actually withdraw from Donetsk at some point and try and come in another way. Federal MP Clive Palmer has declared the Australian Federal Police should be brought home immediately, because their lives should not be put at risk to recover the remaining victims of the MH17 plane crash. The leader of the Palmer United Party has told the ABC's AM program that the Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister have done all they can, but the AFP's mission should be abandoned, even if access to the site is improving. "I think we've got to get them out of there, as long as there is fighting taking place their lives could be at risk," he said. "I'm very reluctant to say this, but we've got to protect these people before something happens to them." Mr Palmer says it is time to accept that it may not be possible to recover all of the remains. "I just don't think it's realistic to have a lot of people who are alive worrying about recovering remains that's going to put anyone's life in danger, to be honest with you, I just can't see the point of it," he told AM. "I don't believe, that if it was my family I'd want to see other Australians killed just to recover remains, to be honest with you, and I don't think any of the families would want to put other families' husbands and wives at risk." Mr Palmer does not believe arming the police would improve the safety of their mission. "Certainly we don't want armed people there because it'll only provoke an incident, and that's not what we want," he said. The leader of the Palmer United Party hasn't been given a security briefing by the Government, and has not sought one. But he says there is a clear understanding in the international community that pro-Russian rebels are responsible for shooting down the Malaysian airlines plane two weeks ago, and he questions the need to gather forensic evidence at the site. "I just think that's rubbish to be honest with you, we know the rebels shot them down, and I don't think anything you find at the site will change that view that people have got," Mr Palmer said. Moscow denies Western accusations that it has armed and supported rebels who are fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. The day-long pause in fighting in the country's east was announced following a plea from the United Nations for a truce to allow a stalled probe into the downing of flight MH17 to go ahead. Fighting between Moscow-backed rebels and government troops in the area had been intensifying since the airliner was shot down on July 17.
  • "We have taken a decision not to conduct military operations on this so-called 'day of quiet'," military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky said. He said the move was in response to an appeal by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to halt fighting. ABC/wires Photo: A woman walks out of a damaged block of flats carrying her belongings following what locals say was recent shelling by Ukrainian forces in central Donetsk. Donetsk is where Australian police were stationed while waiting to get access to the MH17 crash site. (Reuters: Sergei Karpukhin)
  • Photo: Australian couple Angela Rudhart-Dyczynski and Jerzy Dyczynski lost their daughter Fatima in the crash, and visited the wreckage site on July 27. (AFP: Bulent Kilic) Photo: An armed pro-Russian separatist guards the crash site. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev)
  • Photo: Flowers are left on a piece of the Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 wreckage. (AFP: Bulent Kilic) Photo: A Malaysian air-crash investigator works at the crash site. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev)
  • Photo: Military men carry a coffin containing the remains of a victim of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, during a ceremony at Eindhoven Airbase. (AFP: Robin van Lonhuijsen) Photo: An Australian flag catches the wind alongside the multitude of flowers left at Schiphol Airport
  • in Amsterdam. (Audience submitted: Ellyn Cook) Photo: A convoy of hearses, bearing remains of the victims of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash, are escorted along the A27 highway by military police to Hilversum, Netherlands, where they were to be identified by forensic experts, July 23, 2014. (Reuters: Marco de Swart )
  • Photo: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L), Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, (C), and wife Lynne, (R), watch as MH17 victims return to Eindhoven Airbase, the Netherlands, July 23, 2014. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
  • Photo: Members of the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry carry a body at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region on July 19, 2014. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: A Twitpic from Australia's ambassador to Russia, Paul Myler, showing flowers and a note reading 'Forgive us' left outside the Australian embassy in Moscow, on July 19, 2014. Thirty-six Australian citizens and residents were among 298 killed when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. (Twitter: Paul Myler (@PosolAustralia))
  • Photo: People gather during a candlelight vigil for the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in Kuala Lumpur on July 19, 2014. (AFP: Manan Vatsyayana) Photo: Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitors speak with a pro-Russian
  • separatist at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: The wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured two days after crashed in a sunflower field near the village of Rassipnoe, in rebel-held east Ukraine. (AFP: Dominique Faget)
  • Photo: A pro-Russian separatist holds a stuffed toy found at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, July 18, 2014. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev )
  • Photo: Firefighters extinguish a fire, on July 17, 2014, amongst the wreckage of Malaysia Airline flight MH17 that crashed near Shaktarsk, Ukraine. (AFP: Alexander Khudoteply) Photo: A pro-Russian separatist walks on part of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev)
  • Photo: A firefighter sprays water to extinguish a fire amid the smouldering wreckage. (AFP: Dominique Faget) Photo: An emergency worker looks at the mangled wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17
  • plane that crashed in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: Firefighters extinguish a fire among the wreckage as night descends on the crash scene. (AFP: Alexander Khudoteply)
  • Photo: People walk among the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane that crashed in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, killing 298 people. (AFP: Dominique Faget) Photo: Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the pro-Russian separatist "Donetsk
  • People's Republic", visits the crash site, flanked by bodyguards. (AFP: Dominique Faget) Photo: Men stand next to the wreckage of the plane, which disappeared from radar screens before plunging to earth. (AFP: Dominique Faget)
  • Photo: People walk past some of the wreckage. Early speculation pointed to a surface-to-air missile shooting down the plane. (AFP: Dominique Faget) Photo: Flowers and candles were left at a makeshift memorial outside the Netherlands Embassy in
  • Kiev, Ukraine. (AFP: Sergei Supinsky) Photo: Akmar Binti Mohd Noor, 67, whose sister was onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that crashed in Ukraine en route to Malaysia, cries at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. (AFP: Manan Vatsyayana)
  • Photo: Relatives of passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 get on a bus at Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam. (AFP: Olaf Kraak) Photo: The BBC quoted one farm worker in the area as saying, "I was working in the field on my
  • tractor when I heard the sound of a plane, then a bang and shots". (Reuters: Maxim Zmeyev) Photo: Passenger luggage lies near the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane. (AFP: Dominique Faget)
  • Photo: Witness: "There was thick black smoke from a nearby factory. From my balcony I saw a plane begin to descend from a great height and then heard two explosions." (AFP: Dominique Faget) Photo: An emergency worker at the site of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash. (Reuters: Maxim
  • Zmeyev) Photo: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 sits at the G3 gate at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, before it took off for Kuala Lumpur and crashed in Ukraine. (Reuters: Yaron Mofaz)
  • Photo: Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 leaves Schiphol Airport in Schiphol, the Netherlands, on July 17, 2014, before being shot down over eastern Ukraine. (AFP: Fred Neeleman) Gallery: MH17 downed in war-torn Ukraine Topics: unrest-conflict-and-war, air-and-space, accidents, disasters-and-accidents, world-politics, ukraine, russian-federation First posted July 31, 2014 18:46:07 366