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Fighting Blocks Dutch From MH17 Site as Merkel Seeks Sanctions

July 28 (Bloomberg) -- Fighting near the Malaysian Air crash site in east Ukraine again prevented Dutch and Australian investigators from reaching the area as Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe must agree new Russia sanctions by tomorrow.

Dutch, Australian and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe experts turned back after trying for a second day to get to where the plane went down because of fighting between Ukrainian forces and rebels. Forensic workers returned to Donetsk “due to security reasons,” the OSCE said.

Ukrainian forces are battling pro-Russian rebels for control of the area where Flight MH17 crashed, including Torez near where its wreckage was found, and Shakhtarsk, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Torez.

The U.S. says the jetliner was probably brought down by rebels using a Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. The disaster has deepened what was already the worst standoff between the U.S. and its European allies with Russia since the end of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies his government is helping the separatists.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said Germany wants the European Union to agree new sanctions aimed at Russia tomorrow. The EU earlier this month promised to consider its strongest sanctions yet against the Kremlin over its aiding of the rebels.

EU Summit

Merkel is prepared to interrupt her holiday to take part in EU summit on Ukraine if necessary, government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz told reporters today in Berlin.

Representatives of the 28 EU governments are due to meet in Brussels at 4:30 p.m. local time today with the aim of agreeing on which of Putin’s business associates will be added to the sanctions list. Those names will be published tomorrow at the earliest.

“It is crucial to put political pressure on Moscow,” Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said today in Belgrade. “It is very important for Moscow to move from words to deeds.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today in Moscow that sanctions against his country won’t achieve their goal and that Russia will become self-sufficient.

Russia’s Micex Index dropped 2.1 percent to 1,359.55 by 2:55 p.m. in Moscow, the second day of declines, and the lowest intraday since May 8. The ruble weakened 0.7 percent to 35.3750 versus the dollar.

‘War Crime’

Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the shooting down of MH17 “may amount to a war crime.”

“Every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are,” Pillay said in an e-mailed statement from Geneva today.

Ukrainian forces have surrounded Horlivka, a city about 40 kilometers northeast of the regional capital of Donetsk where insurgents retreated after abandoning other positions this month, the Defense Ministry in Kiev said. Donetsk has a population of 1 million.

The U.S. State Department released photos by e-mail it said were evidence of Russian forces firing artillery and rockets across the border at Ukraine’s army, following similar allegations on July 24.

Ground Scarring

The four images purportedly show ground scarring from multiple rocket launchers on the Russian side pointed toward Ukraine and what the U.S. says are corresponding impacts on Ukrainian territory. They also show self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units and blast craters near Ukrainian forces, according to the State Department.

Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky, a Defense Ministry spokesman in Kiev, said today that anti-tank missiles were fired at Ukrainian government positions from inside Russia at 8 p.m. yesterday.

Dutch and Australian investigators had planned to reach the crash site yesterday. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cited the “security situation” in the area around the site for the investigating team’s delay.

“During the morning, new information arrived and, based on that which indicated fighting in the area of the crash site, it was decided to not go to the crash site as it was too unsafe,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 194 people on the flight, told a news conference yesterday. “First signals are that there is heavy fighting.”

Shrapnel Damage

Ukraine, the European Union and U.S. say the rebels have contaminated crash site evidence by moving bodies and wreckage there. Data retrieved from flight recorders indicate the Malaysian jet was hit multiple times by shrapnel from a missile explosion, CBS News reported July 26, citing a European air safety official it didn’t name.

The U.S. delegation to the OSCE said yesterday on its website that Russia also continues to send arms into Ukraine. It also complained that Ukraine’s neighbor would only accept OSCE observers at two checkpoints along the countries’ shared frontier, which is almost 2,000 kilometers in length.

“This will not provide any real accounting of Russia’s massive flows of illegal arms, funding, and personnel,” U.S. ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer said in a website statement.

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