Netherlands to unveil report on MH17 air disaster
The Netherlands was on Tuesday set to release a highly anticipated interim report into the downing of a Malaysia Airlines plane over rebel-held east Ukraine, with hopes that it will shed light on the disaster that claimed the lives of 298 people.
The air crash team led by Dutch investigators from will announce its findings at 0800 GMT on the July crash of Flight MH17, but the report will not apportion any blame.
The Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky over eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, killing all on board including 193 Dutch citizens.
Kiev and the West accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air missile supplied by Moscow.
Russia, which denies mounting Western claims of direct involvement in the five-month conflict in Ukraine, has blamed government forces for the attack.
"We investigate the cause of the accident and not who's responsible," Sara Vernooij, spokewoman for the Dutch Safety Board OVV, told AFP.
The MH17 disaster was the second tragedy for Malaysia Airlines after the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 in March, and threw the global spotlight back on the bloody uprising in eastern Ukraine.
The report is being issued just days after a ceasefire backed by Kiev and Moscow came into force on Friday to try to end a war that has killed over 2,700 people and sent at least half a million fleeing their homes.
Dutch investigators have been unable to visit the site in the Donetsk region because of the fighting, and have relied on information from Ukrainian crash specialists for information from the scene.
- Full report in 2015 -
Investigators are expected to make findings based on information from the aircraft's black boxes, and pictures and video taken at the scene, as well as information supplied by Ukranian air traffic control.
The black boxes have been shipped to Farnborough in Britain to be examined by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
The OVV said the preliminary findings will be "factual information based on sources available to the OVV," with a full report not expected until until mid-2015.
Shortly after the crash forensic experts travelled to the site to collect body parts, but the search has also been suspended due to heavy fighting in the area.
So far 193 victims of flight MH17 have been identified.
Air crash investigators hope they may be able to return to the crash site if a ceasefire agreed on Friday between the Ukraine government and the separatist rebels holds.
Kiev has accused the insurgents of repeated violations of the tenuous truce, and on Tuesday the government said four soldiers had been killed and 29 wounded since Friday.
A woman was also killed on Saturday when rebels launched attacks on the southeastern port city of Mariupol, a key battleground since the insurgents launched a dramatic counter-offensive in the southeast last month.
- 'Ready to review sanctions' -
The European Union agreed new sanctions against Moscow on Monday, but said they could be suspended if the truce does not collapse.
"Depending on the situation on the ground, the EU stands ready to review the agreed sanctions in whole or in part," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Moscow would react to any new punitive steps with an "asymmetrical" measure that could see EU airlines banned from flying over the country's airspace.
Diplomats said the new EU restrictions bar Russia's largest state-owned oil and defence firms from using European markets to raise capital and slap more asset freezes and travel bans on officials
However, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko have vowed to work to uphold the so-called "protocol" signed in Minsk, the first ceasefire backed by both Kiev and Moscow.
The Kremlin said the two leaders -- who often speak by phone despite only having met twice since Poroshenko's election in May -- agreed to continue discussing "steps to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the situation in southeast Ukraine".
Poroshenko paid a highly symbolic visit to Mariupol on Monday, vowing that the port city on a key route between Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula would remain in government hands.
"It is our land. We will not give it up to anyone," he said.
Mariupol has been on edge fearing a full-on offensive by rebels who advanced across the southeast in late August apparently backed by Russian troops and firepower, and dramatically reversed recent Ukrainian gains.
Poroshenko said there had been 10-12 truce violations a day and called on the OSCE, the pan-European security body that brokered the deal, to send observers to the "dangerous" spots where violence had flared.
Officials also announced Monday that around 650 Ukrainians held by rebels had been released, one of the conditions of the 12-point Minsk accord.
© 2014 AFP