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Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush

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HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — A team of several dozen international investigators descended Friday on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine to begin combing an area now designated as a crime scene.

A few hours earlier, at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed by pro-Russian separatist rebels in a town close to the wreckage site.

Investigators from the Netherlands and Australia, along with accompanying officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, traveled in 15 cars and one bus to the crash site, outside the village of Hrabove.

By midday, they began setting up base there for an operation that will initially focus on recovering several dozen bodies still remaining. The team also aims to retrieve the belongings of the 298 people killed when the Boeing 777 was shot down last month.

A small advance team managed to perform an initial survey of the area for the first time Thursday. For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been decaying in the 90-degree (32 C) midsummer heat. Independent observers warned that there has been tampering with evidence.

An Australian police official told reporters Friday that the wreckage would be officially designated a crime scene and that it would be divided into zones that will be systematically searched for evidence.

It is believed up to 80 bodies may still remain uncollected at the crash site, which is sprawled in a broad area across fields between two villages.

The team’s drive to the area took them from their base in the rebel capital of Donetsk, through the government-held town of Debaltseve, and back into the separatist-controlled territory, where the wreckage lies. At Debaltseve, the convoy was joined by three vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Despite both sides in the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine tentatively agreeing to a cease-fire around the crash zone, fighting is continuing nearby.

The deadly attack by rebels on government troops Friday morning took place less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the crash site, outside the town of Shakhtarsk, which has been the object of sustained battles for several days and still remains in rebel hands.

Defense officials said in a statement that an army convoy was struck by mortars during redeployment.

Ukraine security spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said the attack took place at 6 a.m., before the end of the 24-hour “day of quiet” declared Thursday in response to a call for a cease-fire from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“The militants are behaving in a cowardly and shameless fashion,” Seleznev said. “The used the `day of quiet’ just to fire on us.”

Ukrainian forces have latterly focused their strategy on driving a wedge into an area between the largest rebel-controlled cities, Donetsk and Luhansk. Shakhtarsk lies on one of two highways linking those cities.

Leonard reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Associated Press reporter Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Donetsk, Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush

KDWN

DEBALTSEVE, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian authorities said Friday that at least 10 government troops were killed in an ambush by pro-Russian separatists in an area near the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, but international inspectors nonetheless set off for a second day at the crash site.

Defense officials said in a statement that the attack happened during redeployment in the town of Shakhtarsk, which has been the object of sustained battles for several days. The statement did not specify when the attack occurred.

A convoy of international investigators headed out in the early morning for a visit to the wreckage site of the Boeing 777, but on a road that didn’t go through Shakhtarsk.

A small team managed to perform an initial survey of the area for the first time Thursday. For days, clashes along routes to the wreckage site had kept investigators from reaching the area to find and retrieve bodies that have been decaying in the 90-degree (32 C) midsummer heat. Independent observers warned that there has been tampering with evidence.

The team was traveling Friday in 15 cars and one bus from their base in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk. Their convoy was joined by three vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross when it reached the government-controlled town of Debaltseve.

Both sides in the conflict in east Ukraine have tentatively agreed to a cease-fire around the crash zone, although there is evidence that fighting was continuing in nearby locations.

Ukrainian forces have latterly focused their strategy on driving a wedge into an area between the largest rebel-controlled cities, Donetsk and Luhansk.

Shakhtarsk lies on one of two highways linking those cities and is about 20 kilometers south where the Malaysia Airlines plane came down.

The aircraft was brought down in a missile attack last month, killing all 298 people onboard.

It is believed up to 80 bodies may still remain uncollected at the crash site, which is sprawled in a broad area across fields between two villages.

Investigators working on the site say their first priority will be to recover human remains and retrieve victims’ belongings, so that they can be returned home.

Leonard reported from Kiev, Ukraine.