THE HAGUE - A Malaysian passenger jet which blew up over rebel-held east Ukraine with the loss of all 298 people on board was hit by numerous "high-energy objects", according to a report Tuesday which appears to back up claims it was hit by a missile.
While the preliminary report from Dutch investigators does not point the finger of blame over the July air disaster, it could heighten Western pressure against Moscow over its role in the bloody Ukraine conflict.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 "broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside," said the preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board.
International experts have not been able to the reach the rebel-held crash site in the Donetsk region because of fighting, and have relied on information from the black boxes, Ukrainian officials, as well as pictures and video taken at the scene.
But the findings appear to back up claims that the Boeing 777, which plunged out of the sky on July 17 as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by shrapnel from a missile.
"The initial results of the investigation point towards an external cause of the MH17 crash," said Tjibbe Joustra, chairman of the OVV safety board.
"More research will be necessary to determine the cause with greater precision," he said, adding that a final report was expected within a year of the crash.
Kiev and the West have accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air BUK missile supplied by Moscow.
But Russia, which denies Western claims it is funnelling in troops and weapons to bolster the five-month pro-Kremlin insurgency, blamed government forces.
The downing of MH17 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.
"There are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew," the OVV said.