TIME Terrorism

MH17 Ukraine Crash: Russian Roulette Revisited

298 Crew And Passengers Perish On Flight MH17 After Suspected Missile Attack In Ukraine
Bodies of those aboard MH17 alongside a road in eastern Ukraine on Sunday. Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

Putin's foot-dragging turning the horrible vile

General Secretary Yuri Andropov’s Soviet Union played Russian roulette in the early morning hours of Sept. 1, 1983, when an Su-15 interceptor shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, killing all 269 aboard. He died six months later, and his Soviet Union died six years after him, dragged into history, in part, by the horror the shootdown represented, and what it told the rest of the world about the trigger-puller.

Three decades later, Russian president Vladimir Putin seems to be playing the same dangerous game, as pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine apparently used an SA-11 missile system to blast Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from the skies, killing all 298 on board an Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur trip.

That was bad enough. It got worse over the weekend as intelligence surfaced suggesting that the SA-11 wasn’t one that the separatists had captured from Ukraine’s arsenal last month. Instead, SA-11 launchers, and perhaps their operators, appear to have been “on loan” from Russian military units just across the border.

As world outrage at Putin continued to rise Sunday, the Russian leader seemed content to play another round of Russian roulette. But his actions make clear that he added a second bullet to his revolver’s cylinder before spinning it anew.

Within hours of the shootdown, U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence sources believe that three SA-11 units were moved from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine across the border onto Russian soil. Meanwhile, some of the dead—including nearly 200 Dutch citizens, but no Russians or Ukrainians—continued to rot in the wheat and sunflower fields. Drunken separatists, according to Secretary of State John Kerry, have been loading other bodies onto trucks. Putin, by all accounts, is taking pains to ensure that any investigation into who shot down the Boeing 777 won’t get to the scene in a major way until the trail has grown cold.

KAL 007 contributed to the end of the Soviet Union, highlighting its bloodlust as well as its moral bankruptcy. Its denials and obfuscations—first the Soviets denied shooting it down, then they defended it because they deemed KAL 007 to be a spy plane—generated disbelief in many corners of the globe. President Reagan declared it “an act of barbarism,” and Soviet hammer-and-sickle flags were burned. Andropov & Co. barred search vessels from the area.

“Andropov, notwithstanding whatever he actually may have believed about Soviet responsibility, was forced onto the defensive and evidently felt compelled to justify the USSR’s actions at all costs,” the CIA’s official recounting of the episode said. “The US follow-on campaign at the UN and in other channels to embarrass and isolate the USSR in the international community undoubtedly contributed to Moscow’s penchant to see an anti-Soviet plot. In the Soviet view, a campaign of this scope and magnitude that just happened to dovetail with the Reagan administration’s moral critique of the USSR must have been more than simply a chance opportunity seized by Washington in the heat of the moment. President Reagan’s decision to use the KAL 007 shootdown to persuade Congress to support his requests for increased defense spending and the new MX missile pointed in the same direction, in Moscow’s view.”

RUSSIA-USSR-COMMUNISM-KGB-DISSIDENTS-ANDROPOV
Visitors view an exhibition dedicated to the former Communist leader and KGB head, Yuri Andropov, in Moscow, on July 6, 2014. Nostalgic about the might of vanished Soviet empire, Russia marked the 100th anniversary of Andropov’s birth with exhibitions and television films glorifying the Soviet leader who was in charge when his nation’s military shot down KAL 007 in 1983. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP / Getty Images

But don’t look for a quick change in Putin’s attitude. Frank Carlucci, who served Reagan as defense secretary and national security adviser, recalled riding in the back seat of a car through Ukraine with Soviet defense minister Dmitri Yazov after the KAL 007 shootdown:

All of a sudden Yazov turned to me and said, `Why did you send that Korean airliner to spy on us?’ I said, `Jesus, I didn’t. We didn’t send an airliner to spy on you. Why the hell did you shoot it down? It was a stupid thing to do. You know we don’t use airliners to spy. We can get all the spying we need from satellites.’ He said, `Yes. That’s why I don’t understand why you sent the airliner to spy on us.’ It was one of these circular arguments.

The KAL 007 shootdown, piled atop the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the declaration of martial law in Soviet-puppet Poland, and Reagan’s increased defense spending topped with his “Star Wars” missile-defense program, cleared the way for the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, the vanguard of a new class of Soviet leader who presided over the end of the Soviet Union.

Yet Putin’s hero isn’t Gorbachev, but Andropov. As the head of Russian intelligence, Putin “laid flowers on Andropov’s grave, and dedicated a plaque to his hero inside the Lubyanka, the KGB’s notorious Moscow headquarters,” Russia expert and columnist Anne Applebaum has written. “Later, as president, he ordered another plaque placed on the Moscow building where Andropov had lived and erected a statue to him in a St. Petersburg suburb. But Putin wanted to restore more than Andropov’s name. He also, it seems, wanted to restore the old KGB boss’s way of thinking.”

Since Thursday, to the shock of those who haven’t been paying attention before that sad day, he has been doing just that.

TIME Israel

Israel Prepares for Long War in Gaza as Both Sides Suffer Most Casualties Yet

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: During a cease fire, Palestinians medics look for survivors in Gaza's Shujaya district after a night of Israeli heavy shelling on the neighbourhood. In the are two ambulances has been targeted few hours earlier.  ALESSIO ROMENZI
During a cease-fire, Palestinian medics look for survivors in Gaza's Shujaiyeh district after a night of Israeli heavy shelling on the neighborhood Alessio Romenzi

Israeli leaders are preparing for a drawn-out invasion of Gaza even as casualties on both sides hit their peak

Updated: July 21, 2014, 3:00 a.m. E.T.

If you look at most maps of Gaza, you won’t find the neighborhood of Shujaiyeh on it. But the name of the neighborhood on the eastern edge of Gaza City will likely go down in history as a particularly horrific point in a war between Israel and Hamas that only seems to get bloodier and more bitter by the day.

Each side has its own story, and they differ so substantially that it is almost a déjà vu of the terrible bloodshed in the West Bank city of Jenin in 2002: Palestinians called it a massacre, Israelis said it was a battle.

This much is clear: the Israeli army laid siege to the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiyeh late Saturday night and throughout the early hours on Sunday, shelling it with artillery blasts as well as air strikes and helicopter fire. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers also went in on foot and had heavy exchanges of automatic gunfire with Hamas militants. At least 501 Palestinians have been killed, according to figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The IDF also released its grim death toll: 13 soldiers were killed in the fighting.

For Jalal Ghouleh, 47, it was one of the worst nights of his life. He’d been receiving messages from the army — by telephone and by leaflet — to leave Gaza City for days, but he could think of nowhere to run: Palestinians seeking shelter have already packed U.N. schools in the Gaza Strip, with more than 50,000 displaced people sleeping on classroom floors and in courtyards.

The shelling starting at 9 p.m., and it never seemed to stop.

“We were about 65 people in the same building, children, parents, aunts and uncles. We all went down to the ground floor. The shelling and shooting just keep going all night and I thought, ‘We’ll die in this house, we have to get out,’” says Ghouleh. After six harrowing hours, there seemed to be a lull in the fighting. So they decided to make a run for it, leaving the house en masse and scurrying on foot to Shifa Hospital. It was the only place they could think to go that would theoretically be safe.

By midmorning, they were evacuated to a U.N. school, where there was hardly space for them to stay. When a humanitarian cease-fire was declared at 1:30 p.m., Ghouleh came back to their building on the main drag of the neighborhood to collect a few key belongings. A neighbor, Raed Zaqout, had also come back to throw a few valuables and items of clothing into a bag, not knowing when they would be home again. They returned to a street with half-destroyed buildings, burnt-out cars, felled trees, downed electricity poles. The ground was a charred crumble of rubble and shrapnel. The worst, he said, was the inability to help others. “We saw bodies lying in street, maybe some of them just badly injured, but it was such chaos trying to carry out our children and escape that we couldn’t help others,” Ghouleh said.

At the overcrowded Shifa Hospital, families searched frantically for people who were missing and sought treatment for the many wounded. One of the injured was a 4-year-old girl name Ritaj, who was in the emergency room wearing pink pajamas and being treated for shrapnel injuries to her leg. “I lost my brother, I lost my brother,” she repeated over and over again. Her mother sat in the seat next to her, crying.

A little over an hour’s drive north from the hospital, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod HaSharon, another child was crying. Uri Greenberg, 10, was bidding a final farewell at his father’s funeral: Major (res.) Amotz Greenberg, 45, was one of Israel’s first casualties of the war. He and another Israeli soldier were killed on Saturday — and four more wounded — after Hamas militants who had infiltrated Israel through an underground tunnel opened fire on them.

“Dad, once you seemed like superman. Now you are superman,” said the redheaded boy between sobs.

While the first two soldiers to die in the current conflict were buried, the news of the losses the IDF sustained in Gaza stretched across Israel. The loss of 13 elite Golani Brigade soldiers in a single day — 15 more soldiers were injured, four of them seriously — was heavy news that served as a kind of grim reality check of what is to come. This was no weeklong flare-up like 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense. The stakes are high, there is no immediate end in sight, and it would be almost inappropriately euphemistic to call it an “operation” rather than a war.

IDF spokesman Peter Lerner tells TIME that Israel sustained relatively heavy losses because Hamas militants were intent on trying to defend what was far from a regular neighborhood.

“It’s a Hamas stronghold, a fortified position, a fortress of tunnels that extend from houses to rocket launchers to caches of rockets that are concealed underground. Eight percent of the rockets in the past 12 to 13 days were launched from there,” Lerner says. “The difference in what happened there, compared to previous days, is that we met huge resistance in the form of rocket-propelled grenades, antitank missiles and automatic fire from AK-47s and other machine-gun fire coming from all the houses, targeting our forces. It was substantial, and that’s why we provided air and artillery support.”

Could Israel not have worked harder to avoid the civilian casualties? Lerner says the IDF tried to get people to leave the area. “For the last three days we’ve been urging Palestinians from Shujaiyeh and other places to leave the vicinity. But Hamas urged the population to stay, and the situation is unfortunately that this developed as it did.”

In the evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference with his Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Netanyahu sought to comfort the grieving families and the somewhat stunned nation, but also to boost morale for a military campaign that he indicated was far from over.

“We bow our heads to those who fell so that we can continue our existence in the State of Israel. There isn’t a more just war than the one our sons fell in than this war,” Netanyahu said. “In every battle there are difficult periods, but despite this the ground campaign will expand and continue until the quiet returns to the citizens of Israel.” So far, 1,700 rockets have been fired at Israel, which suffered only one civilian death before the IDF soldiers were killed this weekend. The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has soared to 434 since the most recent wave of violence began a week and a half ago, according to Reuters, citing health officials in Gaza.

Meanwhile, regional leaders met in Doha Sunday to hold talks on cease-fire possibilities, following a failed Egyptian-brokered effort last week. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Qatar to discuss a cease-fire with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was there later on Sunday to help push truce efforts. The Obama Administration also tried to beef up its efforts, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry due to travel to Cairo to seek a truce based on the November 2012 cease-fire agreement. That one kept the peace — for a year and a half, anyway.

TIME Israel

Obama Has ‘Serious Concern’ About Mounting Gaza Casualties

President Obama Departs White House For Camp David
U.S. President Barack Obama walks towards to the Marine One on the South Lawn prior to his departure from the White House July 18, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

John Kerry will go to Cairo to negotiate a ceasefire

In a Sunday phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, but the President expressed “serious concern” for the rising casualty count in the Gaza Strip. Obama’s concern applies to Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers alike, according to a White House readout of Sunday’s call.

Obama, who has previously condemned attacks on Israel by Hamas, also said that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Cairo to “seek an immediate cessation of hostilities” based on a 2012 ceasefire deal.

The call, the two leaders’ second in three days about Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza, occurred not long after Israeli military operations on the ground escalated in Gaza. At least 87 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed Sunday, according to Palestinian health officials and the Israeli military.

TIME Australia

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Australia Mulls G-20 Putin Ban

Tony Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, right, attends a service for victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney on July 20, 2014. Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

But it's unclear if Australia can unilaterally bar the Russian leader

The giant Létourneau pipe organ at Sydney’s St. Mary’s Cathedral sounded particularly somber Sunday morning as Prime Minister Tony Abbott and other Australian dignitaries joined hundreds of mourners at a service to commemorate victims of the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was most likely hit by a missile before crashing in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

“Sister Philomene Tiernan was one of our teachers and she was killed in the crash. It has really hit our school hard,” said Kasey Brassel. Brassel was one of dozens of students from an exclusive all-girls Catholic school, Kincoppal Rose Bay, who had come to commemorate the Australian nun listed among the 298 passengers lost in the disaster. Choking back her tears, she added, “[But] we came to remember all the victims, each one of them individually.”

However, Bishop Peter Comensoli, who led St. Mary’s Sunday morning sermon, was less restrained. “The downing of MH17 was not an innocent accident. It was the outcome of a trail of human evil,” he told the packed cathedral.

Comensoli’s sentiments mirror Australia’s stern diplomatic rebuke of Russia as the country’s national death toll rose from 28 to 36 after it was revealed eight additional passengers aboard MH17 were permanent residents of Australia. “Russian-controlled territory, Russian-backed rebels, quite likely a Russian-supplied weapon. Russia can’t wash its hands of this,” Prime Minister Abbott told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation during a televised interview this weekend.

Adding fuel to the fire are reports that bodies, valuables and wreckage from the crash site are being carted off by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. Those separatists are also reportedly blocking inspectors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe from accessing the site, though reports Sunday indicate the rebels have recovered the Boeing 777′s black boxes and will turn them over to European aviation officials.

“No one is really in charge,” Abbott said, referring to the Ukrainian crash site. “It’s absolutely chaotic.”

Abbott has dispatched his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, to U.N. headquarters in New York to seek a binding Security Council resolution that would ensure Russia facilitates an independent investigation into the downing of MH17. But with Moscow holding veto power over the council and pointing the finger at Ukraine, Bishop will have her work cut out for her.

“Australia has a seat on the Security Council at this time, so it is a good opportunity for Australia to communicate its unhappiness on this matter,” says Dr. Nick Economou of Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry. “But the diplomacy will be quite difficult.”

It’s still unknown if Russia supplied the sophisticated Buk missile believed to have downed MH17, or if the rebels who allegedly shot it secured the weapon from a Ukrainian military depot. Nevertheless, Australian enmity for Russia is heating up, with widespread calls to ban Russian President Vladimir Putin from attending November’s G-20 summit in Brisbane. Australian Greens leader Christine Milne outright supports blocking Putin, Opposition leader Bill Shorten says a Putin ban should be considered, while Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says it will be “difficult” to welcome Putin to Australia. Abbott stopped short of adding his voice to the chorus, but says Australia must ensure visitors “have goodwill to this country.”

However, Mike Callaghan, director of the G20 Studies Centre at Sydney’s Lowy Institute for International Policy, questions Australia’s right to ban Putin from attending.

“The G-20 is an informal economic forum. There are no rules on membership or revoking membership. So any decision has to be made on consensus, and it is questionable if it is up to (the) chair to say who can and can’t come. It would be very different to Russia’s expulsion from the G-8, when all seven other member nations acted together.”

Callaghan adds that a ban on Putin at the G-20 could spark a no-show from other BRICS, a loose association of five major emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — which expressed serious concern in March when Australia’s Foreign Minister Bishop suggested Putin’s barring from the G-8 could be extended to the G-20.

“The G-20 is meant to be an event that brings together the largest developing economies in the world with the largest emerging economies,” Callaghan explains. “So if BRICS don’t come, what is the point of the G-20?”

Monash University’s Economou concurs, saying banning Putin from the G-20 or simply refusing him an entry visa into Australia would prove counterproductive for the G-20, as well as the investigation into the downing of MH17 and for broader global cohesion.

“Our anger with Russia must be communicated,” he says. “But with such a big and powerful player like Russia, you’re better off having them inside the process than outside it. And that will be the big dilemma for Australia further down the track.”

TIME Turkey

Transsexual TV Reporter Becomes Turkey’s Face of LGBT Rights

In Turkey, legislation does not discriminate against transsexuals, but the country has a long way to go when it comes to LGBT rights, advocates say

+ READ ARTICLE

Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread and activists hope to make the country an example of respect towards the LGBT community.

Michelle Demishevich, a prominent LGBT rights activist, is the country’s first transsexual TV reporter. While Turkey’s gay and transgender communities enjoy better rights than their counterparts in most Muslim countries, her achievement is rather unique.

In the video above, reported by the AFP, the activist talks about the fight for LGBT rights in Turkish society.

TIME russia

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Kerry Tells Russia to Take Responsibility

John Kerry
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attends the Strategic Dialogue expanded meeting with Chinese officials including Wan Gang, Chinese Minister of Science and Technology during the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue held at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on July 10, 2014 in Beijing, China. Pool—Getty Images

The Secretary of State says Russia supplied Ukraine separatists with missile systems

Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russia on Sunday to “step up” and take responsibility for the Ukrainian rebels who are suspected of shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

“It’s pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia,” Kerry said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Kerry said the U.S. observed significant arms supplies, including rocket launchers and tanks, moving from Russia into the hands of separatists in the Ukraine in recent weeks. The U.S. also intercepted conversations about the transfer of a missile system that the U.S. suspects downed the airplane, which was carrying close to 300 people. There were no survivors.

“The separatist are in control,” Kerry said in a separate Sunday appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And it is clear that Russia supports the separatists, supplies the separatist, encourages the separatists, trains the separatists, and Russia needs to step up and make a difference here.”

TIME Israel

Israel and Palestinians Report Highest Number of Deaths Yet in Gaza Offensive

Thousands of Palestinians are fleeing their homes

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated 12:16 a.m. ET Sunday

Sunday marked the third and deadliest day of Israel’s latest offensive into the Gaza Strip, as both sides of the conflict reported a record number of deaths. At least 87 Palestinians died Sunday, Palestinian health officials said, the New York Times reports, while Israel’s military said Sunday that 13 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The deaths come as Israeli military forces escalated their ground offensive against Hamas militants on Sunday. Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which is targeting Hamas rocket sites and tunnels leading into Israel, began Thursday after several days of rocket and air attacks between Israel and Hamas as well as other Islamic factions in Gaza.

“From 12:30 a.m. until 4 a.m., all you could hear is heavy bombardment, the smell of fire and the smell of death. By 4:30, and after the call for the prayer, we were able to get in an ambulance,” said Jawad Hassanain, a Shijaiyah resident who fled to his sister’s neighborhood with his family after their house was shook by explosions.

The Shifa Hospital in Gaza quickly overflowed Sunday morning, with some doctors treating patients in the hallway. The Red Cross proposed a two-hour afternoon ceasefire to help evacuate the injured from the conflict zone Sunday, but that lull in fighting fell apart in under an hour, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Palestinian death toll has reached 425 people since July 8, according to Palestinian health officials. Before the 13 soldiers were killed Saturday, Israel’s military said seven Israelis, including five other soldiers, had been killed. Israeli hospitals say dozens of soldiers have been wounded as well.

The most recent wave of violence between Israel and Hamas began after the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian teen in June and July.

[NYT]

TIME Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Rebels Put Bodies in Railcars

They also say they're turning over the black boxes

The bodies recovered from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 will stay in refrigerated train cars in the insurgent-occupied town of Torez until U.N. aviation officials arrive, a top Ukrainian rebel leader said Sunday. The comments from Alexander Borodai, the self-appointed Prime Minister of a pro-Russian “People’s Republic” in eastern Ukraine, come after other European officials said rebels had rounded up victims’ bodies and put them on railcars bound for an unknown destination.

The rebels also said Sunday they will turn over the black boxes from the Boeing 777 to officials from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body that oversees global aerospace issues. The aircraft’s black boxes were earlier rumored to have been sent to Moscow for examination.

Flight 17 is widely believed to have crashed in eastern Ukraine after being shot down Thursday.

Both Ukraine’s government and the rebel forces have alleged the other was responsible for downing the Boeing 777.

A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s government said rebels forced emergency teams to give up the bodies recovered at the crash site without revealing where they were taking the corpses. Associated Press journalists had previously reported seeing bodies in bags piled together in the heat on Saturday.

Borodai denied that rebel forces were interfering with the crash investigation and said he was disappointed with how long it had taken Malaysian aviation experts to arrive at the scene.

The U.S. embassy in Kiev has concluded “that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.” It said Russia had supplied military equipment to the insurgents, though Russia has denied the claims.

[AP]

TIME

Rebels to Give MH17 Black Boxes to Aviation Group

TOREZ, Ukraine — Rebels have recovered the black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and will hand them over to the International Civil Aviation Organization, a rebel leader said Sunday.

Alexander Borodai also said the bodies recovered from the crash site in eastern Ukraine would remain in refrigerated train cars at a station in the rebel-held town of Torez, 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation.

Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface-to-air missile Thursday at Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur some 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) above the battlefields of eastern Ukraine. Both deny shooting down the plane. All those onboard the flight — 283 passengers and 15 crew — were killed.

It was immediately not clear Sunday if the rebels and the Ukrainian government were working together or were at odds with each other on recovering the bodies — and from their comments, many of officials didn’t appear to know either.

A Ukrainian emergency spokeswoman said the armed rebels had forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site and did not tell them where the bodies were going. Ukrainian government officials, meanwhile, prepared a disaster crisis center in the government-held city of Kharkiv, expecting to receive the bodies, but those hopes appeared delayed or even dashed Sunday.

“The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive,” Borodai said, speaking in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Borodai said he was expecting a team of 12 Malaysian experts and that he was disappointed at how long they had taken to arrive. He insisted that rebels had not interfered with the crash investigation, despite reports to the contrary by international monitors and journalists at the crash site.

The rapid-fire developments Sunday morning came after a wave of international outrage over how the bodies of plane crash victims were being handled and amid fears that the armed rebels who control the territory where the plane came down could be tampering with the evidence.

Ukraine says Russia has been sending sophisticated arms to the rebels, a charge that Moscow denies.

The U.S. embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement Sunday pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded “that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.” It said over the weekend of July 12-13, “Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armored personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rockets launchers” to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters in southwest Russia, including on air defense systems.

The rebels have been strictly limiting the movements of international monitors and journalists at the crash site, which is near the Russian border, and Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry said its workers were laboring under duress, overseen by the armed rebels.

Associated Press journalists saw reeking bodies baking in the summer heat Saturday, piled into body bags by the side of the road or still sprawled where they landed in the verdant farmland in eastern Ukraine after their plane was shot out of the sky.

By Sunday morning, AP journalists saw no bodies and no armed rebels at the crash site. Emergency workers were searching the sprawling fields only for body parts.

There was no immediate word on the bodies of the 102 other plane victims, but Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said some bodies have likely been incinerated without a trace.

“We’re looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized,” he told reporters in Kiev on Sunday, speaking via phone from the crash site.

Alexander Pilyushny, an emergency worker combing the crash site for body parts Sunday, told the AP it took the rebels several hours Saturday to cart away the bodies. He said he and other workers had no choice but to hand them over.

“They are armed and we are not,” Pilyushny said.

Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a duty officer at the train station in Torez, said emergency workers loaded plane victims’ bodies Sunday into five sealed, refrigerated train cars.

Vasily Khoma, deputy of governor of the Kharkiv region where Ukraine has set up a crisis center to handle the disaster, said the Ukrainian state railway company had provided the refrigerated train cars. Kharkiv is 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of the crash site.

He said no information was available on when airplane parts would be brought to the city and that the priority now was on recovering bodies. He said a mobile lab to handle DNA analysis was being delivered from Dnipropetrovsk.

Residents in Kharkov have been inundating a special call center to offer their services as volunteers. Ten hotels in Kharkiv say they will give free rooms for relatives of the victims.

In a blistering article for the Sunday Times, British Prime Minister David Cameron called the attack a “direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them.”

“We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action,” he wrote.

In a coded rebuke of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders who have blocked efforts to impose tougher sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Cameron said Europe must now “respond robustly.”

“For too long, there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine,” Cameron wrote.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, speaking in Kiev, demanded that the culprits be found.

“Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice,” he said.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Rebels Haul Away Victims of Malaysia Airlines Crash

Emergency Workers carry a body at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 19, 2014.
Emergency workers carry a body at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 19, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Victims' families have been forced to wait and wonder as pro-Russian separatists load bodies of the dead onto trucks

The engine of the old Zil military truck sputtered as the rebel fighter put the gearbox in reverse, mixing the smell of exhaust fumes with the sickening stench of death already hanging in the air. Behind him on the side of a country road in eastern Ukraine was a row of corpses, roughly two dozen in all, concealed in black body bags. They were some of the victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash that took nearly 300 lives on Thursday, and as the driver moved his makeshift hearse into position alongside them, he came within a couple feet of driving over one of the bodies before a few of his buddies yelled for him to stop.

Whatever hopes remained of a thorough and professional investigation of the crash ebbed away on Saturday evening as the workers began to lift the bodies into the bed of the truck, stacking them on top of one another. They all refused to say where the victims were being taken. They refused to say whether the flight recorders had been found among the debris, which was scattered over an area several kilometers in diameter. “Just let us work!” one of them snapped at a TIME reporter. “We’ve been here for three days, sleeping three hours a night in the fields with the corpses all around us.”

But that hardship probably pales in comparison to the suffering the victims’ relatives are experiencing. So far no relatives of the victims have been to the crash site, which lies inside the region of eastern Ukraine that is controlled by pro-Russian separatist militias. Their fighters, who are widely suspected of shooting down the plane in the first place, possibly by mistake, have refused even to allow a group of European observers to fully inspect the crash site.

“Unfortunately the task was made very difficult,” said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which sent a delegation on Thursday to monitor the wreckage and the condition of the victims’ remains. “Upon arrival at the site,” he added during a press conference on Friday, “we encountered armed personnel who acted in a very impolite and unprofessional manner. Some of them even looked slightly intoxicated.” One of the gunmen fired shots into the air, Bociurkiw said, and the observer mission left after about an hour.

The OSCE observers’ access was not much better on Saturday, when the local workers – who were dressed in the uniforms of emergency personnel – waited until the foreign observers were gone before they began loading the dead into the trucks. Outrage over the apparent disrespect for the dead, the obvious contamination of the crime scene, and the lack of access for relatives, has poured in from around the world. But it seems to make little difference to the rebel commanders, who turned two regions of eastern Ukraine into lawless breakaway republics about three months ago. Every arm of the Ukrainian government – from traffic police to coroners – have effectively abandoned these territories to the rebels.

Even accessing the site on Saturday from the nearby city of Donetsk required passing through at least four rebel checkpoints, where haggard and stone-faced gunmen peered into the passing cars, checked the documents of their passengers and sometimes rummaged through the trunks and cabins in search of weapons. Many of the fighters are poorly trained and mishandle their weapons, switching off the safety switches on their Kalashnikovs and holding their fingers on the triggers as they interrogate motorists and passersby.

Numerous cases of kidnapping and violence have occurred at the rebel checkpoints over the past few months, so the Ukrainian government has discouraged the victims’ relatives to pass through these regions. “Our efforts to arrange the procedures [at the crash site] in a proper way are being impeded by the terrorists,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement to the victims’ families on Friday. The ministry offered to put the relatives up at hotels in nearby cities outside of rebel control, where they would have to endure the agony of waiting to see the victims’ bodies.

It is impossible to say with certainty how long that wait would be, but with every day that passes, the rebel fighters who control the crash site have more time to tamper with the evidence of what actually happened over the skies of eastern Ukraine on Thursday afternoon. Unless their commanders are forced, pressured or convinced to allow outside investigators to access the wreckage and the remains of the victims, there may never be closure in the case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

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