Ukraine Claims More Territory As Fight Intensifies

(Reuters/AP) -
Self-proclamed Donetsk People’s Republic policemen guard a convoy of International forensic experts, Dutch and Australian policemen and members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine approach Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday. An international police team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
Self-proclamed Donetsk People’s Republic policemen guard a convoy of International forensic experts, Dutch and Australian policemen and members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine approach Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday. An international police team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Ukraine said on Monday its troops had wrested more territory from pro-Russian rebels, advancing towards the site where Malaysian flight MH17 was brought down, which international investigators said they could not reach because of the fighting.

Ukraine’s foreign minister that pro-Russian separatists are continuing to try to manipulate the wreckage of the Malaysian airliner that the United States and others have accused the rebels of shooting down.

Troops recaptured two rebel-held towns near the crash site and were trying to take the village of Snezhnoye, near where Kiev and Washington say rebels fired the surface-to-air missile that shot down the airliner with loss of all 298 on board, Ukrainian officials said.

One pro-government militia said 23 of its men had been killed in fighting in the past 24 hours, while a rebel commander said he had lost 30 soldiers.

Analysis of black box flight recorders from the airliner showed it was destroyed by shrapnel from a missile blast which caused a “massive explosive decompression”, a Ukrainian official said on Monday.

Investigators in Britain, who downloaded the data, had no comment. They said they had passed information to the international crash investigation led by the Netherlands, whose nationals accounted for two-thirds of the victims.

In a report on three months of fighting between government forces and separatist rebels who have set up pro-Russian “republics” in the east, the United Nations said more than 1,100 people had been killed.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said increasingly intense fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions was extremely alarming and the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner on July 17 may amount to a war crime.

Western leaders say rebels almost certainly shot the airliner down by mistake with a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile. Russia accuses Kiev of responsibility.

On Monday at least three civilians were reported killed in overnight fighting, and Kiev said its troops recaptured Savur Mogila, a strategic piece of high ground about 20 miles from where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing hit the ground, and other areas under rebel control. Rebels denied Savur Mogila had been lost, saying fighting was continuing.

Further Sanctions

The White House says it expects the European Union to impose new sanctions this week against Russia, including against key sectors of the Russian economy, and that the United States will implement additional measures as well.

Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser, says the steps are necessary to convince Russia to cease support of separatists in Ukraine and stop destabilizing the former Soviet republic.

Blinken addressed reporters after President Barack Obama and European leaders conferred Monday about next steps for dealing with the crisis in Ukraine.

The White House says Obama held a joint call Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande , British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Tougher U.S. sanctions are expected this week. The EU also reached a preliminary deal last week on sanctions that would target Russia’s access to European capital markets and trade in the defense sector and sensitive technologies.