LONDON - A team around 100 international investigators and police was able to visit Friday the crash site of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 in eastern Ukraine. The inspectors had been forced to turn back several times this week due to heavy fighting between Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebel forces.
More than two weeks after MH17 plunged from the skies over eastern Ukraine, a full team of investigators finally reached it.
Parts of the plane are strewn across 50 square kilometers. It’s believed that about 80 bodies are yet to be found.
Australian Federal Police Commander Brian McDonald emphasized that his forces are in Ukraine only to recover bodies.
“This is about the recovery of human remains and trying to give some closure for those poor victims that lost people through this really tragic event. But it is a crime scene, we'll treat it like a crime scene,” said McDonald.
The sound of distant gunfire and mortars drifted across the crash site. It’s still not clear who is in control of the territory.
Several Ukrainian soldiers were killed late Thursday in an ambush on their convoy in Shakhtarsk, just 20 kilometers from the wreckage of MH17.
Ukraine's National Security Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the army plans to encircle the rebels.
He said that the rebels are trying to defend Shakhtarsk from the Ukrainian army. They are doing that because Shakhtarsk is a strategic point that would allow Ukrainian forces to cut off Luhansk from Donetsk, the two main rebel strongholds.
Ukraine and its Western allies blame the pro-Moscow separatists for shooting down the plane with a Russian-made missile. The separatists are also accused of tampering with the wreckage. Russia and the rebels deny involvement.
The United States and Europe this week ratcheted up sanctions against the Russian banking, oil and defense industries.
Russia banned the import of all fruit and vegetables from Poland on Friday, for what it says are violations of health regulations.
Warsaw is convinced the move is retaliation for its criticism of Moscow.
Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz, Poland’s Interior Minister, said, “If you fight with values, you will always have to pay for it. We pay in apples, it is good that we are not paying in blood.”
The investigators said they are working as fast as possible on the crash site, but they said will judge the safety of their mission one day at a time.