MH17 crash: Investigators reach site for first time after Ukraine troops killed in bloody ambush nearby

Fighting between rebels and Government soldiers has delayed the investigation

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The Independent Online

At least 10 Ukrainian troops have been killed in an ambush by pro-Russian rebels near where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed.

Government officials said the attack happened overnight on Thursday in the town of Shakhtarsk, which has seen fierce battles in recent days.

Rebels claimed they destroyed more than 30 vehicles belonging to Ukrainian troops and graphic unverified footage showed bodies around a burning vehicle.

While Ukrainian officials said 10 soldiers were confirmed dead and four more bodies had yet to be identified, local media said 20 paratroopers had been killed.

The violence has not stopped a convoy of international investigators heading to the nearby site of last month’s air crash that killed 298 people.

Thursday saw the first survey of the area and independent observers have warned that some evidence appears to have been tampered with.

Video: 'Terrorists' military positions strengthened around crash site

The crash site and surrounding the area is largely controlled by the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic of separatist rebels.

On Twitter, the group's news agency said an “enemy” column had been “repulsed” and three soldiers from Ukraine's 25th Air Mobile Brigade had been taken prisoner, the BBC reported.

Fighting with Government troops trying to reclaim the region along routes to the wreckage site had previously kept investigators from reaching the area retrieve and repatriate the remaining bodies that have been decaying in the summer heat.

malayisa-plane-crash-5.jpgThe team was travelling in 15 cars and one bus, including 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 eastern Ukraine have tentatively agreed to a ceasefire around the crash zone, although there was evidence that fighting was continuing in nearby locations on Saturday.

Ukrainian forces are attempting to drive a wedge between the largest rebel-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk to restrict the rebels’ movements.

Shakhtarsk lies on one of two main routes linking the cities and is about 12 kilometres south where the Malaysia Airlines plane came down.

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

Both the rebels and the Ukrainian military have denied responsibility for a rocket that reportedly hit MH17 as it flew on an approved flight path from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

Evidence from the Boeing 777’s black boxes reportedly showed shrapnel from a rocket blast caused a “massive explosive decompression” in the cabin.

Results from the official investigation into the crash have not yet been released.

Additional reporting by AP