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Flight MH17 Broke Apart When Hit by High-Energy Objects, Report on Ukraine Crash Finds

Dutch investigation lends credence to Western claims that the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed with a BUK missile system.

by Harriet Salem
Sep 9 2014, 11:30am

Image via Harriet Salem

A preliminary report into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine has found that the plane broke up in the air after being hit by a "large number of high-energy objects" that "pierced the plane at high speed".

The document, released by the Dutch Safety Board, says that there is no evidence of "technical or human error".

All 298 people on board the flight were killed when it crashed in Ukraine's conflict zone while travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17th.

Kiev and its western allies say there is strong evidence that the pro-Russian rebels fighting government forces shot down the plane with a Buk anti-aircraft missile. 

The investigators' findings are consistent with the use of such a system as the Buk and other surface-to-air missiles work by exploding in the airspace close to the target, which is then destroyed by the resulting shrapnel.

The report said MH17 "broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-velocity objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside." 

Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, said the findings "leads to the strong suspicion that a surface-to-air missile brought MH17 down."

Moscow has strongly denied allegations that it is supplying weapons to the rebels operating in the area. The Buk system is used by both sides in the conflict and the investigators did not specify from where a missile might have been fired.

A full report into the downing of the flight is expected to be published within a year. Experts from the UK, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, the US, Ukraine and Russia are collaborating on the case.

Exclusive Footage of MH17 Aftermath: Russian Roulette (Dispatch 60). Watch here

On Tuesday, a ceasefire brokered between representatives from Russia, Ukraine and the rebels in Minsk appeared - after a shaky start - to be holding, but only just.

The halt in fire came into effect at 5pm local time on Friday but both sides reported violations over the weekend, most notably in Mariupol where a heavy exchange of artillery fire set fields ablaze near residential blocks on the outskirts of the city on Saturday night. Mortar shelling and automatic gunfire were also heard in the area near Donetsk airport on Sunday. The rest of the region, however, has remained calm and neither side has yet officially proclaimed the death of the Minsk deal.

War in Peace: Divided East Ukraine Braces As Ceasefire Crumbles. Read more here

The 12-point peace plan agreed in Belarus's capital also includes an "all-for-all" prisoner exchange, increased autonomy for Donetsk and Luhansk regions and an agreement to withdraw heavy weapons from the firing range of cities. Kiev says that over the last four days it has managed to "secure" the release of 1,200 prisoners held by the rebels.

On Monday, Ukraine's president, Petro Poroshenko, visited divided Mariupol to rally for a united Ukraine.

The port city of nearly half a million people was briefly under the control of separatist forces in April, but the pro-Russian rebels who organized a referendum on secession in the city were routed by government forces in the early days of Kiev's anti-terror operation. The action attracted criticism after panicked troops opened fire in populated areas, killing at least three people who the government claimed were separatists.

After months of calm, Mariupol is now back on front line of the conflict after rebel forces seized new territory in Ukraine's southeast, forcing Ukrainian troops to retreat to the outskirts of the city.

Poroshenko announced his visit to the city in a tweet. "Mariupol is Ukraine. We will not surrender this land to anyone," he wrote.

Visiting a metal plant belonging to Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, Poroshenko told the workers: "I have ordered (the military) to secure the defence of Mariupol with howitzers, multiple rocket launchers, tanks, anti-tank weapons and air cover."

The Ukrainian president, who donned military-style fatigues for the occasion, warned that the rebels would suffer a "crushing defeat" if they advanced on the city. He also praised the workers from the plant who formed volunteer units to patrol the streets after the separatists were routed in April and have helped dig trenches on the frontline. "Mariupol has proven that we won't let anybody burn our city to the ground. The workers of Mariupol have protected peace and calm in the city," he told the crowd.

On the other side of the front, in rebel held Donetsk, a rally was held in celebration of Donbas Liberation Day. A few hundred people gathered at a World War II memorial commemorating the veterans who gave their lives freeing the region from Nazi occupation.

Drawing on rhetoric used by the rebels which makes a parallel between the "Great Fatherland War" and the current conflict in east Ukraine, Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, said that 71 years after the liberation of Donbas they were "once again defending the land against fascists."

Despite the peace deal supposedly now in place, EU member states are set to impose a new round of sanctions on Russia, in what EU Council President Herman van Rompuy called a way of "promoting a change of course in Russia's actions destabilising eastern Ukraine."

Details about the exact nature and timing of the latest package of financial penalities are yet to emerge but they are expected to target Russian oil companies Rosneft and Transneft and the petroleum unit of state gas monopoly Gazprom

In a tit-for-tat move, Russia has warned that it might block international flights from passing through its airspace if the EU goes ahead with new measures.

Russia Threatens to Bankrupt Western Airlines by Closing Its Airspace. Read more here

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem