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18 Jul, 2014 16:20

US confident surface-to-air missile brought down MH17 - Obama

US confident surface-to-air missile brought down MH17 - Obama

President Barack Obama called for a cease-fire between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine to allow a complete investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

“We have increasing confidence” that the Malaysian plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from rebel-controlled territory, Obama said. He also confirmed that at least one American, Quinn Lucas Shanzmen, was killed on board the plane.

The crash “underscores that it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine,” Obama said in a statement on Friday. “This should snap everybody’s head to attention and make sure we don’t have time for propaganda and we don’t have time for games.”

“This is a global tragedy. There has to be a credible international investigation into what happened, and we must hold all, including Russia, accountable for that,” the president said. “Russia, pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate and complete cease-fire” to allow for the investigation to proceed unhindered.

A journalist takes photographs at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo, in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014 (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down Thursday afternoon en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in eastern Ukraine. There were 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. The area surrounding the crash location is controlled by pro-Russian separatists battling the Ukrainian government. The majority of passengers were from the Netherlands, with a large contingent of Australians as well.

The self-defense forces of Donetsk People's Republic have allowed Ukraine’s investigators to the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines plane and promised to welcome all experts from international groups.

“We have already allowed four Ukrainian investigators. Also the experts from OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and other international organizations will take part in the probe,” DPR’s deputy-PM Andrey Purgin told Interfax.

However, it is unclear who fired the missile or where it was fired from. US intelligence officials believe the attack from an area controlled by the pro-Russian separatists, according to the president. He stopped short of blaming the group in control of parts of eastern Ukraine, though.

A Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft missile battery was operational in the region, the Russian Defense Ministry said, contradicting Kiev’s statements. The battery was deployed at a site from which it could have fired a missile at the airliner, the ministry said in a statement. It said radiation from the battery’s radar was detected by the Russian military.

A Buk-2M missile system (RIA Novosti / Anton Denisov)

Earlier Kiev said it could not have fired a missile at the passing civilian plane because it had no Buk missile launchers deployed in the region. At the same time the Ukrainians said the militias had no Buk systems in their hands, according to a statement from the country’s Prosecutor General.

US officials said they did not want to jump to conclusions, but acknowledged that it was not unlikely that the missile attack could have come from the separatists controlling Donetsk and the surrounding areas, according to USA Today. The pro-Russian group has already shot down several planes and helicopters in Ukraine, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin called for the creation of an international commission to investigate why Ukrainian dispatchers sent the flight over an area with military clashes. The state must provide security for flight paths, he said before the UN on Friday, so there is a need for an investigation into Ukrainian aviation authorities for their role in the incident. He did not speculate as to who was behind the missile attack.

The crash came one day after the US imposed new sanctions on Russia, targeting Russian banking and energy sectors. Obama used his remarks to drive home the need for a diplomatic solution to the situation, and accused Russia of “continued violations of Ukrainian sovereignty,” he said, because “Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to de-escalate the situation.”