Fighting in east Ukraine has again prevented an international investigation team from reaching the crash site of flight MH17. The Netherlands prime minister has called on Ukraine to halt its offensive in the area.
The Dutch police mission in eastern Ukraine said on Tuesday it had abandoned plans to visit the Malaysian Airlines crash site for the third consecutive day because of fighting along their route.
"The group of Dutch and Australian experts did not leave Donetsk for the crash site in east Ukraine. There is currently too much fighting on and around the road to the crash site," the Dutch justice ministry said in a statement.
The Ukrainian government on Monday stepped up its offensive in the region in a bid to push pro-Russian separatist forces back to their two main urban strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. The fighting has included the area where MH17 is believed to have been shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile.
Officials said 14 people, including five children, were killed in fighting on Monday in the town of Gorlovka/Horlivka. Five civilians were also killed in Luhansk when shelling hit a retirement home.
The investigation team trying to reach the MH17 crash site says they need access in order to recover some of the airliner's 298 victims, most of whom were Dutch and Australian, still lying in the fields.
More than 200 bodies have already been sent to the Netherlands for identification.
The West alleges MH17 was shot down by Ukraine's separatist fighters. The rebels say Kyiv is responsible for its crashing.
Call for calm
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday in a bid to get Ukrainian forces to stop fighting around the airliner's crash site, according to a government spokesman.
"The prime minister this morning called the Ukrainian president with a request to halt hostilities around the crash site," Jean Fransman told the AFP news agency.
"This is important because we want to get to the crash site as quickly as possible to get the victims and bring them home," he added. "Mr. Poroshenko said that he will do everything possible to make it happen."
dr/mg (AFP, Reuters)