Experts aim to reach MH17 crash site

Experts are due to renew their efforts to reach the crash site, still in rebel-held territory.

Experts are due to renew their efforts on Monday to reach the crash site, still in rebel-held territory.

KIEV/DONETSK/MOSCOW - At least three civilians were killed in overnight fighting in eastern Ukraine and government troops pressed ahead with their campaign against pro-Russian rebels, taking a strategic point close to where Malaysian flight MH17 crashed, officials said on Monday.

Fierce fighting in the vicinity of the airliner crash site prevented international monitors from reaching it on Sunday to investigate the downing of the plane with the loss of all 298 people on board.

Western leaders say rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Russia accuses Kiev of responsibility.

Kiev said on Monday its troops recaptured Savur Mogila, a strategic piece of high ground about 30 km from where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing hit the ground on 17 July.

Experts are due to renew their efforts on Monday to reach the crash site, still in rebel-held territory. Roadblocks between the city of Donetsk and the crash site are variously controlled by Ukrainian army or rebel forces.

The rival sides accused each other of impeding access to the site on Sunday, with Kiev saying it was not engaged within a 20-km no-flight zone and rebels accusing the army of trying to destroy evidence on the ground.

In Kiev, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she would discuss access with Ukrainian authorities.

"We'll be seeking assurances that any military action doesn't compromise our humanitarian mission," Bishop told a news conference, adding she had information on fighting raging within the no-flight zone the day before.

Bishop also said Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash, hoped Russia would use its influence on the rebels to help allow wider access to the site so that investigators can determine who was behind the downing of the plane.

In Donetsk, local officials said fighting went on around various city districts overnight and artillery fire damaged several residential blocks and houses. Power lines and a gas pipeline were also hit, they said.

Ukraine's emergency service said more than 56,000 people fled the violence in two eastern regions since Kiev started what it calls an "anti-terrorist" operation against the rebels there three months ago.


Russia will not impose tit-for-tat measures or "fall into hysterics" over Western economic sanctions, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, trying to stake out the high ground amid growing tensions with the West.

Speaking at a news conference, Lavrov said he hoped for an objective investigation into the crash in eastern Ukraine of a Malaysian airliner on 18 July.

Russia is facing more sanctions from Europe over its role in the Ukraine crisis, which has left Russia's ties with the West at their most strained since the Cold War, but Lavrov said such measures could make Russia more economically independent.

"I assure you, we will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength," the foreign minister said.

"We can't ignore it. But to fall into hysterics and respond to a blow with a blow is not worthy of a major country."

Any retaliatory measures from Russia could affect oil major BP, whose 19.75 percent holding in Russian top oil producer Rosneft leaves it heavily exposed to the Russian economy.

Kremlin-controlled Rosneft also has agreements with ExxonMobil, Eni and Statoil to tap Russia's Arctic offshore oil and gas.

Members of the European Union, angered by the downing of MH17 on its way from Amsterdam, are expected to reach a final decision on Tuesday on measures including closing the bloc's capital markets to Russian state banks, an embargo on arms sales and restrictions on dual-use and energy technologies.

The EU added new names on Friday to its list of individuals and companies facing travel bans and asset freezes over their alleged involvement in Ukraine and could agree to extend the list further as early as Monday.


The West blames Russia for fanning the violence in Ukraine by allowing fighters and arms to travel freely over its porous border into rebel-held territory in the country's predominantly Russian-speaking eastern regions.

Lavrov responded to those accusations by saying Moscow had tried to contribute to diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine but that the West has not sufficiently used its leverage over Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Lavrov also repeated calls for an objective investigation into the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, which Moscow has suggested was caused by Ukrainian government forces.

"Only the honest, open participation of all those who have access to information about the crash can be regarded as normal. Anything else we will consider as deceitful attempts to influence the investigation, putting presumption of innocence in doubt," he said.

He also suggested that Kiev had hampered access to the crash site on Sunday when international monitors abandoned plans to visit the region of the crash due to reports of heavy fighting.

The Ukrainian government said its forces were advancing towards the crash site to try to free it from the rebels, who have impeded the work of international monitors and whom Kiev accuses of tampering with evidence pointing to who shot it down.

International monitors said the fighting itself could affect the crash site, underlining the growing complexity of trying to establish who shot down the plane.

Lavrov also said Moscow was hopeful that monitors from the European rights and security watchdog, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, could be deployed along Russia's border with Ukraine, amid accusations from the West that Moscow was shipping fighters and arms through the border.

"We hope that this (monitors' deployment) will allow to dispel suspicions that are regularly being voiced against us, that those (border) checkpoints controlled by the militias from the Ukrainian side are used for massive troops and weaponry deployment from Russia to Ukraine," he said.