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MH17 observers turn back amid Ukraine clashes

A team of OSCE observers has again abandoned a bid to reach the site in eastern Ukraine where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down nearly two weeks ago. Ukraine meanwhile claims it has recaptured territory from rebels.

A team of OSCE observers on Wednesday again failed to reach the crash site of MH17 shortly after beginning the two-hour trip to the location from the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

The observers had aimed to find out whether the route to the site was safe for a larger team of Dutch and Australian investigators who want to secure the area and search it for further remains of the 298 victims of the July 17 crash.

The Dutch-Australian team has been trying to reach the site for four days, but has so far been

hindered in their attempts

by ongoing clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian army troops.

The OSCE team did not immediately say what issue had forced their return to base, but Dutch television said the team had also been compelled to turn back because of fierce fighting in the area.

The cause of the crash remains uncertain, with Ukrainian and US officials blaming Moscow-backed separatists, and Russia accusing Ukraine, of bringing down the plane.

Deadly clashes

Local officials say at least 19 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours.

Government forces say they have managed to recapture the strategic town of Avdeevka, just to the north of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

Ukrainian forces also continue to encircle another key town in the region, Horlivka. The Ukrainian military says a foothold in the town is key to a planned advance on Donetsk.

Local authorities in Luhansk said artillery shelling had killled at least one resident and cut off power and water to thousands of households.

Russia hits back

Meanwhile, Russia has imposed a ban on the import of Polish fruit and vegetables in what analysts say is an expression of anger at European Union and United States sanctions imposed on Moscow because of its

alleged support of the insurrection in Ukraine.

The agricultural authority in Moscow said the ban had been imposed because of the violation of Russian standards with regard to the use of pesticides, and dismissed claims that it was politically motivated.

The ban, the latest in a series of trade restrictions linked to the deepening rift between the West and Russia over Ukraine, comes

a day after the EU and US announced tough new sanctions

against Moscow affecting a number of different sectors.

tj/rc (AP, dpa)

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