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MH17: Search for remains halted

The Netherlands said it was halting the recovery mission because of continued fighting in the region.

FILE: This photo taken on 26 July 2014 shows flowers, left by parents of an Australian victim of the crash, laid on a piece of the Malaysia Airlines plane MH17, near the village of Hrabove in the Donetsk region. Picture: AFP.

KIEV - The Ukrainian government said on Thursday it was suspending a ceasefire with separatist rebels at the crash site of the Malaysian airliner after an international recovery mission had been halted.

Flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July killing all 298 passengers and crew, 196 of them Dutch citizens.

The Netherlands said on Wednesday it was halting the recovery mission because of continued fighting in the region.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told journalists in The Hague the risk posed to the team of 70 Australian, Dutch and Malaysian experts was too great to continue working in the area.

A Ukrainian defence spokesman said Ukrainian forces were not carrying out any military action within 20 km of the site.

A government statement said later: "Experts were in agreement that the ceasefire regime in the area of the downing of the plane will not be in force until there is a second stage of the investigation."

Meanwhile, Russia banned all imports of food from the United States and all fruit and vegetables from Europe, the state news agency reported on Wednesday, a sweeping response to Western sanctions imposed over its support for rebels in Ukraine.

The measures will hit consumers at home who rely on cheap imports, and on farmers in the West for whom Russia is a big market. Moscow is by far the biggest buyer of European fruit and vegetables and the second biggest importer of US poultry.

The war of economic sanctions has escalated even as fighting has intensified on the ground in eastern Ukraine in the three weeks since a Malaysian airliner was shot down over territory held by pro-Russian rebels.

NATO said on Wednesday Russia had massed around 20,000 combat-ready troops on Ukraine's border and could use the pretext of a humanitarian mission to invade. It was the starkest warning yet from the Western alliance that Moscow could mount a ground assault on its neighbour.

Over the past two months, government troops have fought back, gaining ground against the rebels, who are led almost exclusively by Russian citizens and have managed to acquire tanks, missiles and other heavy

Kiev said 18 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed and 54 injured in 25 separate clashes over the past day in eastern Ukraine. Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said troops had been shelled from inside Russian territory and frontier guards had come under a four-hour mortar and artillery attack.