EINDHOVEN, Netherlands (AFP) ― Dozens more bodies from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are set to arrive in the Netherlands on Thursday, as the EU prepares to hit Russia with fresh sanctions.
Foreign ministers from the 28-nation bloc said they would meet in Brussels Thursday to draw up a new list of Russian individuals and entities to be slapped with sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis.
The European Union agreed to speed up the imposition of wider sanctions and examine tougher measures after the Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down in strife-torn eastern Ukraine, allegedly by separatist rebels backed by neighboring Russia.
The first bodies from the crash site arrived in the Netherlands on Wednesday, bringing the grief-stricken nation to a standstill as it mourned the 298 passengers and crew who left the country on the ill-fated journey a week ago.
|A column of funeral hearses drives near Boxtel after leaving the airbase in Eindhoven to Hilversum, the Netherlands, Wednesday. (EPA-Yonhap)|
An overwhelming 193 of the victims were Dutch and the country has been united in grief and anger because of delays in getting bodies home and over the way pro-Russian separatists have treated the site, the victims’ remains and personal possessions.
In a poignant and sombre ceremony, uniformed Dutch military personnel hoisted 40 wooden coffins from two planes and placed them in individual hearses at Eindhoven airport in the south of the country.
Tears flowed as a trumpeter played the Last Post at a gathering of around 1,000 bereaved relatives, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima and representatives of the other mourning nations met the planes.
Officials from the Netherlands who are leading the investigation on the ground in Ukraine say they have received 200 bodies from the rebels. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has warned it could take months for the bodies to be identified.
Dutch police have been visiting the bereaved to retrieve DNA samples from items such as hairbrushes and from details of tattoos and fingerprints, as well as consulting medical and dental records to help with the identification.
Ukrainian government troops are pushing on with their offensive to wrest control of east Ukraine’s industrial heartland from the pro-Moscow separatists.
In a dramatic development in the conflict hampering the MH17 recovery and investigation effort, Kiev said missiles fired from Russia took down two of its warplanes in the rebel-controlled area of the crash.
“According to preliminary information, the rockets were launched from Russian territory,” Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said.
A spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said its fighters shot down the two aircraft. Both pilots managed to parachute out of the Su-25 jets, which came down some 45 kilometers southeast of the MH17 crash site toward the Russian border.
The incident came as the International Committee of the Red Cross said it considered Ukraine to be in a state of civil war, and warned both sides to abide by the Geneva Conventions.
Putin is staring down fresh European sanctions just a week after the latest set was unveiled over its role in the Ukraine crisis, which has chilled East-West tensions to the lowest point in years.
Ministers will decide on a list of “entities and persons, including from the Russian Federation,” for providing “material or financial support” to those responsible for the March annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory and destabilizing the east of the country, where MH17 came down, the EU said Tuesday.
The EU “remains ready to introduce without delay a package of further significant restrictive measures” if Russia does not reverse course and cut the flow of fighters and material across the border into eastern Ukraine, a statement said.
U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe the rebels mistakenly shot down the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a surface-to-air missile.
The plane’s black boxes have been delivered to Britain for expert analysis, and Dutch analysts said on Wednesday they had successfully downloaded the data from the cockpit voice recorder and there was no evidence it had been tampered with.
The flight data recorder is to be analysed on Thursday, the investigators said.
Kiev said the Netherlands and other countries that lost citizens are proposing to send police to secure the area, amid concerns of interference with vital evidence.
Flags of the 17 nations that lost citizens in the crash flew at half mast at the Eindhoven airport in the south of the Netherlands. Malaysia Airlines counted 11 nationalities on the passenger manifest, but some had dual nationality.