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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Ukraine’s government has accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down a Malaysian passenger airplane in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, many of them children and Dutch tourists.
The rebels denied attacking the plane, which was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, but but the crash was expected to draw both East and West deeper into the conflict.
Bodies, debris and burning wreckage of the Boeing 777 found in a field near the rebel-held village of Hrabove in the volatile Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
There were many Dutch passports, including from those whose lives had just begun.
Officials said some 80 children were among the passengers who died when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 17 was shot down here, some 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, from the Russian border.
PRIME MINISTER SHOCKED
Most of the passengers, 154 of them, were Dutch, prompting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to break-off his holiday in southern Germany. After landing at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport he expressed his sorrow over the incident.
“This is possibly the worst air accident in Dutch history,” Rutte said, adding that he was shaken by the news and that the Netherlands is united in mourning the victims. Thoughts, he added, are with the relatives and friends of those who perished.
There were also 27 Australian, 45 Malaysian, 12 Indonesian and nine British passengers on board. Others included 4 German, 4 Belgian and 3 Filipino nationals, and 1 Canadian. All 15 crew were Malaysian.
Ukraine’s government has accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane with support from Russia.
“I just spoke with the prime minister of the Netherlands,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He expressed condolences “on behalf of Ukraine” and invited Dutch experts to investigate what he called terrorism. “I make clear again: This was not an accident but an act of terrorism.”
U.S. INVESTIGATES CRASH
American intelligence officials believe a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down Thursday, but were still working on who fired the missile.
A Website attributed to a pro-Russian separatist leader suggested rebels may have shot down MH17, believing it was a military plane, but it has since been taken down and details remained unclear.
“We just downed an An-26 near Torez. It’s down somewhere near Progress mine,” a rebel apparently said,
referring to a Ukrainian military transport plane.
The page, on the VKontakte social network, is attributed to Igor Girkin, who uses nickname Strelkov and is the self-proclaimed military commander of the rebels. The page has been posting for rebels affiliated with Strelkov for weeks, and has some 130,000 followers.
The West has accused Russia of providing pro-Russian separatists with sophisticated weapons, but Moscow has denied the charges.
PLANES SHOT DOWN
Just before the crash, several Ukrainian military airplanes were already shot down around the Russian border, though rebels have denied involvement in the latest incident.
There was international concern that the flight’s so-called black boxes ,with crucial recordings, would be send to Moscow, with government officials demanding an independent investigation.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is dealing with his country’s second plane crash this year, promised that “no stone would be left unturned” and that anyone responsible would be brought to justice “swiftly.”
The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged “a full international investigation” and the United Nations Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting about Ukraine on Friday.