28 Jul 2014

Clashes over control of MH17 crash site

8:12 pm on 28 July 2014

The Ukrainian armed forces have launched an offensive against pro-Russian rebels in the east in a bid to gain control over the crash site of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

The flight crashed on 17 July en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board. Among the dead were New Zealand-born Australian resident Mary Menke, her husband Gerry Menke and British-born New Zealand resident Rob Ayley.

A memorial service for Mr Ayley is being held in Wellington on Monday.

The rebels have been accused of shooting it down but Russia has suggested the plane could have been shot down by the Ukrainian military - an allegation Ukraine denies.

Officials said Ukrainian army was aiming to seize the site so international experts could carry out a thorough investigation into the cause of the crash, the BBC reports.

Australian police to try again

An Australian police contingent in the Ukraine will again try to reach the "highly volatile" crash site on Monday.

They were were forced to abandon plans to secure the site and recover crash victims' remains on Sunday as fighting flared between the pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian military.

Police deputy commissioner Andrew Colvin said the safety of the unarmed team remains the highest priority.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, has scrapped plans to send an international armed mission to the site amid fears of being dragged into the conflict.

Earlier, Malaysia said it had struck a deal with the rebels to allow international police at the site.

Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe spokesperson Michael Bociurkiw said he hoped they could return to work as soon as possible.

"I must say that there is what seems to be a critical mass now of experts, both Dutch and Australian, and there's a co-ordination cell being formed. So the groundwork has been laid."