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Fighting continues near Ukraine crash site

Crash investigators unable to get to site after two warplanes were shot down just 45km from the scene.

Last updated: 24 Jul 2014 11:17
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Dozens more bodies are being flown to the Netherlands from Ukraine [EPA]

Fighting between Ukrainian troops and rebels has continued to take place near the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17, as experts in Britain begin analysing crucial data from the downed airliner's black boxes.

Rebels and government forces have declared a ceasefire in the immediate vicinity of the site, but just beyond, fierce fighting was ongoing, AFP news agency reported on Thursday.

Ukrainian military said that rockets were being fired "from the Russian side," hitting locations close to Lugansk airport and in several areas in the Donetsk region.

Artillery fire echoed in the south and northwest of rebel-held Donetsk in eastern Ukraine overnight on Wednesday in to Thursday and one district near the city was without electricity as Ukrainian forces pressed a military campaign against pro-Russian separatists.

The rebels ordered the removal of all vehicles in a square near the train station, and local authorities said damage to dozens of electricity substations had left at least one district, called Petrovsky, without electricity, Reuters news agency reported.

Ukraine's army has forced the rebels back to their two main strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, taking villages and suburbs around them, and officials said they were continuing to abandon positions outside the cities.

"We are noticing the further strengthening...of attacking positions and defence, as well as the movement of armoured vehicles into towns around Donetsk, in Horlivka and Ilovaisk," the Ukrainian military said in a statement on Thursday.

As government troops push on with their offensive to wrest control of east Ukraine's industrial heartland from the pro-Moscow separatists, the Red Cross warned both sides to abide by the Geneva Conventions, declaring that it considered the country to be in a state of civil war.

Crash site disturbed

A Dutch team leading the probe into the downing of MH17 was stuck in Kiev on Thursday, unable to join a handful of international investigators at the site, after two warplanes were shot down on Wednesday just 45 kilometres from the impact scene in rebel-held territory.

As the EU prepares to hit Russia with further sanctions over allegations it is arming the separatists accused of downing MH17, dozens more bodies are being flown to the Netherlands, a day after the first 40 others arrived in the grieving nation.

Experts say many remains are still lying in the vast crash site where recovery work has grounded to a halt a week after the disaster, with Dutch authorities saying they can only be sure that 200 corpses have been recovered from the 298 people killed on board.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that there was still a need for a rigorous search of the debris zone and confirmed that police personnel had been sent to London and were ready to be deployed to Ukraine to help secure the crash site.

"On the site it is still clear that nothing is happening without the approval of the armed rebels who brought the plane down in the first place," he said.

"There has still not been anything like a thorough professional search of the area where the plane went down, and there can't be while the site is controlled by armed men with vested interest in the outcome of the investigation."

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