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July 27, 2014

18 Dead in Donetsk Fighting

by VOA News

Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels killed at least 18 people in Donetsk on Sunday, as an international monitoring team delayed its visit to the crash site of a downed airliner out of security concerns.

Rebels said two children were among 13 dead in the city of Horlivka, while another five people were killed in clashes in a suburb north of Donetsk.

International police postpone crash site visit

​​Police monitors from Australia and the Netherlands postponed plans Sunday to visit the Malaysian airliner crash site in eastern Ukraine, citing security concerns as fighting continued in the area.

All 298 people on the Boeing 777 were killed when the plane was shot down 10 days ago en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. It fell in a rebel-held area of the Donetsk region, where fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists has raged for months.

Dozens of Dutch and Australian officials have arrived to investigate and aid in the recovery of human remains amid reports of evidence-tampering at the scene.  Malaysia said Sunday it would also be sending dozens of police to support the investigation.

More fighting reported

Alexander Hug, a Ukraine-based official with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said reports of fighting near the crash site prompted the delay.

"Unfortunately, the security situation on the spot and on the road to that site is unacceptable for us. We have taken the decision not to dispatch and deploy today,'' he said.

The international team said it will attempt to visit the crash site on Monday if the security situation improves, Hug said.

Rebel leader Alexander Borodai had agreed to allow international investigators safe access to the site.

An AFP photographer heard artillery bombardments just a kilometer from the rebel-held town of Grabove near the wreckage on Sunday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's office said Sunday in a statement that Malaysian police will join the monitoring team in Ukraine to "provide protection for international crash investigators."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said unarmed Australian police will be sent to the rebel-held zone of the crash site as part of a Dutch-led police force to secure the area and help recover victims' remains.

"Our objective is principally to recover the bodies. That is what the Australian people expect of us, that is what grieving families around the world deserve," he said.

Identifying victims

Dutch authorities say they have made the first identification of a crash victim.  They released no details to the public, but say the family has been informed.  Most of those killed were Dutch.

The remains of 227 of the victims have been flown to the Netherlands, but observers in Ukraine say some bodies still lie at the crash site in the summer heat.  They say security concerns are making it difficult to collect the last of the remains.  

Pro-Russia separatists have been blamed for shooting down the airliner with a surface-to-air missile.