ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine — A team of international experts on Friday concluded its most detailed visit yet to the crash site of downed Malaysian Airlines flight 17, where they recovered at least some of the remains of the more than 70 bodies believed to have been left behind.
But fierce fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels continued only miles from the site — which experts have tried numerous times to reach — suggesting any conclusive findings may still be far off.
“The security situation at the site is unstable and unpredictable,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in the Netherlands on Friday, Reuters reported.
Around 70 Dutch and Australian police investigators, escorted by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), scoured the sprawling crash site in eastern Ukraine, which remains under rebel control but appears to be coming under increasing pressure from government military forces.
It was the first sizeable group of experts to visit the site after a smaller group of OSCE monitors traveled there on Thursday.
Both sides in the conflict have accused one another of attempting to hamper the investigation and preventing experts from gaining access to the area. Officials repeatedly refused to visit the site due to security concerns until Thursday.
Ukrainian officials said their troops were ambushed overnight on Thursday less than 15 miles from the site in an attack that reportedly left 10 soldiers dead and injured about a dozen more.
The crash site, which covers around 13 square miles, sits close the front lines of fighting, and Ukrainian forces appear to be attempting to drive a stake through separatist-held territory with their most recent advances.
That would effectively cut off the greater Donetsk area — currently the key rebel stronghold — from the rest of separatist-held eastern Ukraine, most of it in the neighboring Luhansk region.
Further north of the crash site, in government-held territory, an eerie calm prevailed over cities once under rebel control.
Locals in Slovyansk, the former separatist stronghold taken over last month by Ukrainian forces, were still wandering the streets of their mostly empty city.
On the main road leading south toward Donetsk-area cities, military checkpoints were up and running, if still mostly quiet.
The team of international experts, which had been based in Donetsk, is reportedly moving its center of operations just north of this sleepy, gray city of around 80,000, where they’ll enjoy quicker access to the crash site in coming days.
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