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Clearing Of MH17 Debris Begins In Eastern Ukraine

A pro-Russian rebel fighter guards an area of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, earlier this week. Investigators erect a "no trespassing" sign in the background.
Mstyslav Chernov

Dutch investigators have begun clearing the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, four months after the Boeing 777 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 289 aboard in an incident that sparked international outrage against separatists blamed for the attack.

A recovery team working in the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, an area controlled by the rebels, has begun collecting debris from the crash site under the supervision of investigators from the Netherlands, whose citizens comprised the bulk of the passengers on the ill-fated Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight. The Dutch Safety Board said it planned to reconstruct a section of the airliner as part of its continuing investigation.

NPR's Corey Flintoff, reporting from Moscow, says investigators are trying to recover as much evidence as possible from the July 17 crash site, but that in recent weeks "access to the area has been blocked by frequent shelling between the separatists and Ukrainian forces."

The removal of debris began as the United States, Japan and Australia, meeting at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, announced that they were "committed to bringing to justice those responsible for the downing of Flight MH17."

It also follows the release of a photo on Russia's Channel One and Rossiya television that purports to show a Ukrainian jet firing an air-to-air missile at the airliner. The report, which was quickly labeled "preposterous" by the U.S. State Department and became the subject of debunking attempts on social media, is at odds with reports that the plane was downed by a Russian-built and rebel-operated mobile missile platform called a BUK.

The Associated Press says that bloggers cited "a cloud pattern to prove the photo dates back to 2012, and several other details that seem incongruous." In August, the Russian Union of Engineers released an analysis of the tragedy, arguing against the surface-to-air missile theory (see below).

In a statement, the U.S. said the photo was an effort to "obfuscate the truth and ignore ultimate responsibility for the tragic downing of MH17."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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