Listen to this shorter version of this BosNewsLife News story via Vatican Radio:
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Ukraine has released what it says are intercepted phone calls in which pro-Russian separatists admit to shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, killing all 298 people on board. The Boeing 777 went down in eastern Ukraine while on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Most of the victims, 293 according to Dutch officials, came from the Netherlands.
In a statement obtained by BosNewsLife, the Vatican said Pope Francis is praying for the victims and their relatives. Pope Francis “has learned with dismay of the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, a region marked by high tensions,” the statement said.
“He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”
Ukraine’s intelligence agency, the S.B.U., said it had obtained audio from phone calls between pro-Russian rebels and Russian military intelligence officers discussing the crash. A separatist commander, identified as Igor Bezler, could be heard telling a Russian intelligence official, “We have just shot down a plane.”
In another call, a man who seemed to be at the scene of the crash, described the scene.
He said a group of Cossack militiamen shot down the plane. He added that it was a passenger jet and that the debris contained no sign of military equipment.
Asked if there were any weapons, he said: “Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medical equipment, towels, toilet paper.” Asked if there were any documents among the debris, the man said:
“Yes, of one Indonesian student.”
U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to confirm the leaked audio tape saying Friday, July 19, that “Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine.”
Soon after the rebels realized the extend of the tragedy with one saying in another phone call there are lots of corpses of women and children.
Most of the 298 passengers on board were from the Netherlands, where flags flew at half-staff. The government called the number of deaths almost unimaginable. Dutch security experts were on their way to Kyiv as part of an international investigation into the exact cause of the crash and to help identify victims.
MOVED PRIME MINISTER
The visible moved Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would seek justice. “Ladies and gentleman let me make it crystal clear,” Rutte told reporters. “We will leave no stone unturned. And if it becomes clear that this was indeed an attack I will personally dedicate myself to ensuring that those responsible for this crime will be found and face justice. Earlier we will not rest. That’s the least we can do for these innocent and their relatives.”
Earlier Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who deals with a second major air disaster, said he too was launching an “immediate investigation” into what ended Flight MH 17. The Dutch Foreign Minister and experts arrived in Ukraine, but it was unclear whether they would be able to reach the crash site after pro-Russian rebels, shooting in the air, turned back a team of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), officials said.
It seemed as if everyone in the Netherlands, a country of 16 million people, knew someone among the 293 Dutch nationals killed in the crash. Among those killed were Senator Willem Witteveen and AIDS researcher and specialist Joep Lange.
President Obama expressed his sorrow over the accident. “Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken — men, women, children, infants — who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine. Their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions.”
He noted that “By far, the country that lost the most people on board the plane was the Netherlands. From the days of our founding, the Dutch have been close friends and stalwart allies of the United States of America. And today, I want the Dutch people to know that we stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in our grief and in our absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko believes the crash shows the war between government forces and Russia-backed separatists is escalating into a wider conflict. “Today the war went outside the Ukrainian borders,” he said, adding that the “war now touches the whole world.”
However Russian President Vladimir Putin, has blamed Ukraine’s government for creating conditions for the tragedy in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have bragged about shooting down at least three Ukrainian military aircraft. “I want to emphasise that this tragedy would not have happened if there was peace and military activities had ended in Ukraine’s southeast.”
But President Putin did not deny that a Russian-made weapon was used to shoot down the Malaysian jetliner.
That has done little to ease the pain of relatives of those who died, including many children. Most passengers were Dutch, but there were also dozens of people from Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia. Others included nationals from Britain, Germany, the Philippines, Canada and New Zealand, making the impact of this tragedy felt around the world.