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In Ukraine, Shelling Disrupts MH17 Probe


Australian experts examine the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site near Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 1, 2014.

Fresh fighting Saturday around the site of a Malaysian airliner that crashed more than two weeks ago in eastern Ukraine hampered an international team of experts searching for human remains there.

About 70 Dutch and Australian investigators had resumed work for a second straight day when shelling disrupted the cease-fire between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists. It interrupted the search in at least one part of the vast site, stretching 20 square kilometers or eight square miles, scattered with wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. All 298 people aboard were killed in the July 17 crash.

President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 1, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, Aug. 1, 2014.

"The artillery impact was very loud and the ground was shaking," Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Ukraine, was quoted by the French news service AFP.

He estimated the artillery hit about two kilometers away, close enough for investigators to decide to leave that area.

Two sniffer dogs deployed near the main debris site helped investigators recover some remains, AFP reported. It noted officials there said the site examination could take three weeks.

The search team was also able to find more personal belongings Saturday.

More than 220 coffins have been returned to the Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens.

Obama, Putin continue talks

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he spoke by telephone with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to say the United States remains deeply concerned about Moscow's increased support for separatists in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said he'd discussed his preference for a diplomatic solution with the Russian leader. However, Obama said there were limits to what the United States could do after imposing economic sanctions and visa bans on some of Putin's allies.

"Right now what we've done is impose sufficient costs on Russia that, objectively speaking, they should ... want to resolve this diplomatically, [to] get these sanctions lifted — get their economy growing again and have good relations with Ukraine.

"But sometimes people don't always act rationally and they don't always act based on their medium- or long-term interests," Obama said. "That can't deter us though. We just have to stay at it."

White House officials said the two leaders "agreed to keep open their channels of communication."

Russian officials said Putin told the U.S. president that fresh sanctions imposed on Russia for its support for the separatists were "counterproductive" and would cause "serious damage to bilateral cooperation and international stability."

Ukraine and Western governments blame rebels for the shootdown of the Boeing 777. U.S. analysts have said the jetliner likely was downed by pro-Russian separatists who mistook the jetliner for a Ukrainian military aircraft and launched a Russian missile.

Rebels intent on establishing autonomous republics near the Russian border have been battling Ukrainian troops for three months.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.