MAS plane downed in Ukraine war zone, 295 dead

MAS plane downed in Ukraine war zone, 295 dead
The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. MH-17 was allegedly shot down over eastern Ukraine by militants, killing all 295 people aboard.

HRABOVE Ukraine - A Malaysian airliner was brought down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels that has set Russia and the West at daggers drawn.

As the United States said the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was "blown out of the sky", probably by a ground-launched missile, Ukraine and Russia traded accusations of blame, cranking up global pressure for a way out of a bloody local conflict that risks fueling a new Cold War.

 

Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants, aided by Russian military intelligence officers, of firing a long-range, Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. Leaders of the rebel Donetsk People's Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight.

But separatists have said that they took control of such a missile system last month and had used it to shoot down a Ukrainian military transport plane that was destroyed on Monday.

The scale of the disaster, which left scores of unsuspecting foreigners, adults and children, strewn lifeless across the muddy Ukrainian steppe, could prove a turning point for international pressure to resolve the crisis. It has killed hundreds in since protests toppled the Moscow-backed president in Kiev in February and Russia annexed the Crimea a month later.

The United Nations Security Council plans an emergency meeting on Ukraine on Friday, diplomats said. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged a full international investigation.

Reuters journalists saw burning and charred wreckage bearing the red and blue Malaysia insignia and dozens of bodies strewn in fields near the village of Hrabove, 40 km (25 miles) from the Russian border near the rebel-held regional capital of Donetsk.

More than half of the dead, 154 people, were Dutch. Another 27 were Australian and 23 Malaysian.

The Ukrainian government, condemning an act of "terrorism", released recordings it said were of Russian intelligence officers discussing the shooting down of a civilian airliner by rebels who may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military plane.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pinned the blamed on Kiev for renewing its offensive against the rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called it a "tragedy" but did not say who brought the Boeing down.

US Vice President Joe Biden said the jet was "blown out of the sky" and a US official said that, while its origin was unclear, a surface-to-air missile was probably responsible.

After the downing of several Ukrainian military aircraft in the area in recent months, including two this week, Kiev had accused Russian forces of playing a direct role. International air lanes had remained open, though only above 32,000 feet. The Malaysia plane was flying 1,000 feet higher, officials said.

Malaysia Airlines said on Friday the flight route had been declared safe by the UN aviation arm, the International Civil Aviation Organisation. It also said the International Air Transportation Association "had stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions".

US President Barack Obama said it was unclear whether Americans were aboard. A Ukrainian official said there were 23.

As word came in of what Ukraine's Western-backed president called a "terrorist attack", Obama was on the phone with Putin, discussing a new round of economic sanctions that Washington and its EU partners imposed to try to force Putin to do more to curb the revolt against the Western-backed government in Kiev.

They noted the early reports during their telephone call, the White House said, adding that Obama warned of further sanctions if Moscow did not change course in Ukraine.

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