Bishop warns: brace for more pain

Written By komlim puldel on Jumat, 18 Juli 2014 | 20.01

Tony Abbott has dismissed as 'deeply, deeply unsatisfactory' the Russian response to the MH17 disaster.

Pro Russian separatists are being blamed for firing a Russian built surface-to-air missile to bring down MH17 in eastern Ukraine

Evidence is growing that a surface-to-air missile brought down a Malaysia Airlines flight that has crashed in Ukraine killing all on board.

Smoke billows into the sky from the stricken aircraft. Source: Supplied

  • Malaysia Airlines plane shot down over eastern Ukraine
  • Surface-to-air missile used
  • 27 Australians were among the 298 on board
  • Pro-Russian separatists blamed, but have denied attack
  • The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur

FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop has warned the Australian death toll may still rise as investigators work to uncover the identities of 41 victims of the MH17 disaster who are not yet accounted for.

Speaking on Sky News on Friday night, Ms Bishop also confirmed a 28th Australian death is that of a dual citizen.

The Malaysia Airlines plane with 298 people on board, including at least 28 Australians, was downed about 12.15am today Sydney time.

The flight MH17, a Boeing 777-200, was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur but was shot down in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.

Plumes of black smoke could be seen near the rebel-held village of Grabovo in eastern Ukraine, at the crash site 40 kilometres from the Russian border.

The Foreign Minister has issued a stark warning to Russia as it becomes increasingly clear that pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are responsible for bringing down the jet.

Using language that is more direct than is custom in international relations, Ms Bishop made it clear Australia would use its position on the United Nations Security Council to push for an international investigation and warned Russia not to stand in the way.

"Russia has a crucial role to play in all of this. If, as Russia claims, Ukraine is responsible for this, I expect Russia to support a thorough investigation", she said.

The Foreign Minister also said she had been unable to get in touch with her Russian counterpart, who is on holidays, and was told by the Russians she could not speak to a more junior representative.

The comments came after Prime Minister Tony Abbott earlier condemned the initial response of the Russian Ambassador to the MH17 disaster.

Julie Bishop following her meeting with the Russian Ambassador Vladimir Morozov. Source: AFP

Mr Abbott said it was "highly probable" MH17 was "shot down" by what appeared to be a Russian-backed rebel missile.

This afternoon, the Prime Minister revealed the first response from the Russian Ambassador was to blame Ukraine forces for the tragedy — a response he called "deeply, deeply unsatisfactory".

The ambassador had been summoned to speak in Sydney with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was seeking assurances Russia would co-operate with investigators and Australia would get access to the crash site.

Mr Abbott repeated his statement made in Parliament earlier today that the disaster was a crime and not an accident.

Rescue crews walk through the crash site. Source: AP

Australia was working for a binding UN Security Council resolution to secure an independent international investigation, he said.

"It's very important that we don't allow Russia to prevent an absolutely comprehensive investigation."

Mr Abbott said Australia was eager to take a leading role in the investigation, given the high number of Australians killed.

"These people were innocent people going about their lives ... And they have been killed by Russian-backed rebels ... Possibly with Russian supplied missiles."

He had strong words for those that supplied the rebels with the missile.

"Anyone who gave such a weapon to people who were absolutely incapable of using it ... Should feel a sense of shame."

He said Russia's involvement would be a test for that country. "There can be no excuses, no buck passing."

Mr Abbott said there would be a national day of mourning and ordered flags at government buildings to be flown at half-mast tomorrow.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said anyone with concerns for friends or family can call the hotline on 1300 555 135.

People search for bodies near the wreckage of Flight MH17 Source: AFP

THE VICTIMS

Malaysia Airlines says there were 298 people on board, not 295 as originally stated. At least 28 of the victims are Australian.

The number of Australians killed was revised to 28 by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this afternoon, after she met with Russian Ambassador. It's possible the number of Australian citizens killed in the disaster will go higher.

Among the dead are Victorian couple Albert and Marie Rizk, who are believed to have missed an earlier flight and ended up on MH17.

Mr Rizk, a local real estate agent, and his wife, who have two children, were due to return home from Europe today after spending a month abroad on holidays.

Other victims are 27-year-old Melbourne student Elaine Teoh, Sister Philomene Tiernan — a teacher at eastern Sydney's Catholic girls' school — and Perth management consultant Nick Norris, who was travelling with his grandchildren.

Denis Napthine, the Premier of Victoria, said it was likely there were permanent residents of Australia travelling on other passports who were also killed in the crash.

Albert Rizk (on left) and wife Marie (third from left) the couple believed to be on flight MH-17. Source: Supplied

The airline confirmed that those on board included 28 Australians, as well as 154 Dutch, 43 Malaysians, 12 Indonesian (including one infant), nine from the UK, four German, four Beligum, three Filipinos, one Canadian. The nationalities of 41 others on the plane were still unknown.

RELATED: The lives lost on MH17

RELATED: Passenger's tragic last words

RELATED: The families that should have been on MH17

Debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is shown smouldering in a field July 17, 2014 in Grabovo, Ukraine near the Russian border. Source: Getty Images

REACTION

Government minister Ian MacFarlane has played down the possibility that Vladimir Putin could be excluded from the G20 summit in Brisbane in November.

"It's not a security forum and therefore while we need to be mindful that an investigation does have to take place and we do have to obviously see exactly what's happened here, in terms of the G20, it is an economic forum not a security forum."

In the US, Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state, and possible presidential candidate, said in a television interview that indications pointed to Russian-backed side and action was needed to "put [Vladimir] Putin on notice that he has gone too far and we are not going to stand idly by".

"The questions I'd be asking is, number one, who could have shot it down? Who had the equipment? It's obviously an anti-aircraft missile. Who could have had the expertise to do that? Because commercial airlines are big targets, but by the time they got over that part of Ukraine they should have been high, so it takes some planning [to target such a plane].

"And the Ukrainian government has been quick to blame it on terrorists, which is their name for the Russian insurgents. And there does seem to be some growing awareness that it probably had to be Russian insurgents."

A firefighter stands among the wreckage. DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

AIDS CONFERENCE

One of those on board was HIV researcher Joep Lange, who was on his way to Melbourne from the Netherlands to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference, AIDS2014.

As many as 100 of the passengers were thought to be headed to Melbourne for the conference. Organisers have confirmed it will go ahead as planned

"The International AIDS Society (IAS) today expresses its sincere sadness at receiving news that a number of colleagues and friends en route to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia, were on board the Malaysian Airlines MH17 flight that has crashed over Ukraine earlier today," a statement from the International AIDS Society said.

"At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy."

The event is to be held in Melbourne from July 20-25.

People stand next to the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight. AFP PHOTO/DOMINIQUE FAGET Source: AFP

Australian passport found at Malaysia Airlines wreckage site. Photo: Live Leak Source: Supplied

Earlier, Ukraine's Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko was quoted as saying the plane had been shot down by a ground-to-air missile.

According to CNN senior US officials have concluded the plane was shot down but were divided over the origin.

"One radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down Thursday," CNN is reporting.

A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit.

RELATED: Russian rebels 'likely responsible'

RELATED: Warnings ignored on Ukraine's airspace

INTERCEPTED PHONE CALLS

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has reportedly released recordings of intercepted phone calls between Russian military intelligence officers and members of terrorist groups that took place about 20 minutes after the crash.

One call was apparently made by Igor Bezler, who the SBU says is a Russian military intelligence officer and leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

Igor Bezler: "We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo (Donetsk Oblast)."

Vasili Geranin, a colonel in the main intelligence department Russian Federation armed forces then asks: "Pilots. Where are the pilots?"

Bezler replies: "Gone to search for and photograph the plane. Its smoking."

An audio recording purports to show Ukrainian separatists admit to downing passenger jet, MH17. Courtesy Security Service of Ukraine/YouTube

Footage apparently showing Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 being shot down. Source: Supplied

A second call was between militants nicknamed "Major" and "Greek" about 40 minutes later.

"It's 100 per cent a passenger (civilian) aircraft," Major is recorded as admitting that he had seen no weapons on site. "Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper."

Australian Federal MP Christopher Pyne said there was no doubt that the plane was shot out of the sky. But Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that at this stage it had been unable to verify the cause of the tragedy.

Earlier Mr Gerashchenko told the Wall Street Journal pro-Russia rebels had set up a ground-to-missile battery near the Russian border by the town of Snizhne.

"They clearly thought that it was a military transport plane that they were shooting at," he said. "They were the ones who did this."

Wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Picture: AFP / DOMINIQUE FAGET Source: AFP

WHAT HAPPENED?

The plane appeared to have broken up before hitting the ground, and the burning wreckage — which included body parts and the belongings of passengers — was scattered over a wide area.

It came down near the town of Shaktarsk, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, and shocking photos of bodies among the wreckage have been posted on Twitter.

Amateur video shows smoke from a Malaysian passenger plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all onboard including 23 U.S. citizens. Deborah Gembara reports.

"Malaysia Airlines confirms it received notification from Ukrainian ATC that it had lost contact with flight MH17 at 1415 (GMT) at 30km from Tamak waypoint, approximately 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border," the carrier said in a statement on Facebook.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and called for an international investigation into the crash.

Some are blaming Russia for allegedly supporting the separatists but a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said allegations that Russia had been involved in the incident was "stupidity".

Ukrainian woman lies down in front of Dutch embassy holding a poster reading "Putin is a killer". AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov Source: AP

Mr Putin has blamed Ukraine for the crash, "Undoubtedly, the government in whose air space this happened bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy," a Kremlin statement says.

Putin reportedly opened a meeting with his economic advisers by calling for a moment of silence over the crash.

"This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy," he said, according to the statement.

The village of Grabovo is currently under the control of the separatists and the area has seen severe fighting between the two sides in recent days.

A man stands next to the wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines plane. Picture: AFP / DOMINIQUE FAGET Source: AFP

SEPARATIST MOVEMENT

Ukraine is a country in crisis. The region where MH17 went down has seen severe fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists in recent days. Ukraine has been in crisis ever since pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office in February by a protest movement among citizens wanting closer ties with the European Union. Russia later annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, and pro-Russians separatists in the country's eastern regions began occupying government buildings and pressing for independence. Moscow denies Western charges it is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest.

Wreckage near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine. Picture: AFP / DOMINIQUE FAGET Source: AFP

Luggage on the site of the crash of the crash. Picture: AFP /DOMINIQUE FAGET Source: AFP

Flames among the wreckage. Picture: AFP / DOMINIQUE FAGET Source: AFP

SEPARATISTS BLAMED

In a statement, Mr Poroshenko said the plane "disappeared from radar screens".

"In recent days, this is the third tragic accident after the Russian territory were downed aircraft AN-26 and SU-25 Armed Forces of Ukraine. We do not exclude that this aircraft was also shot down, and stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not commit any action to defeat the purposes of the air," Mr Poroshenko added.

A defence expert told the BBC that shooting down a plane at that height would have required a long-range surface-to-air missile — possibly guided by radar.

Oleg Tsarev, one of the leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, told Time that the rebels did not shoot down the plane.

"We don't have weapons that can take down a plane from that altitude," he said, minutes after news of the crash broke.

But there are reports that rebels did have an anti-aircraft military station and the Russian state media even congratulated the rebels on their new Russian-made Buk missile launchers seized from a Ukrainian air force base.

"The Donetsk resistance fighters have captured an anti-aircraft military station," the Kremlin's main television network Vesti announced three weeks ago.

Since then there have been regular downings of Ukrainian aircraft including an AN-26 military transport plane, which was shot down on Monday. Its four crew members were taken hostage after they ejected from the aircraft, rebels later confirmed.

According to The Telegraph, the DPR also posted a Twitter picture of a missile system that it captured when it overran a Ukrainian army garrison on June 29.

A spokesman told Voice of Russia radio at the time: "The forces of the Donetsk People's Republic assumed control of A-1402 (regiment's) military base" and boasted of capturing the Buk launcher.

Ukrainian government forces manoeuvre a Buk anti-aircraft missile launcher. Picture: AP / Dmitry Lovetsky Source: AP

A similar weapon was reportedly seen by an Associated Press journalist on Thursday in Snizhne.

As news spread of the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight, the separatists deleted the Twitter photo of the captured missile system.

A raft of global airlines, including Air France, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, swiftly responded to the disaster by saying they had been avoiding airspace over eastern Ukraine due to safety concerns.

Qantas has confirmed that it has not flown the route across the Ukraine in recent months because it recognised the risks presented by the separatist conflict, during which the aircraft were being shot down.

They were further advised on Thursday to avoid Ukraine's airspace

In France, a statement by junior transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said he had advised "French airlines to avoid Ukraine's air space as long as the reasons behind this catastrophe are not known."

FLIGHT PATH

Flight MH17 departed Amsterdam at 12:15pm (Amsterdam local time, 8:15pm AEDT) on Thursday and was scheduled to arrive in Kuala Lumpur at 6:10am (Malaysia local time, 8:10am AEDT) the next day.

A Malaysian official tonight told a news conference the flight path was approved by the International Civilian Aviation Organisation and was in unrestricted airspace.

The plane disappeared from radar when flying at 10,000 metres cruising altitude, Interfa-Ukraine reports.

The Daily Beast reported the plane's "black box" was on its way to Moscow for "investigation".

But the head of Ukrainian Emergency Situations has since reportedly claimed that search efforts at the scene are being hampered by "armed terrorists".

In response to the disaster Thai Airways said its flights to Europe have been rerouted to avoid Ukrainian airspace.

The company didn't say when the route changes were made effective or how many flights were affected.

America's FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) has also banned US flights from entering the airspace of eastern Ukraine. Via Mashable.

"The FAA has made official what most airlines were already doing: American flights are barred from entering the airspace of eastern Ukraine "until further notice," the agency says. Flights were already officially barred from Crimea and surrounding areas."

The crash comes just four months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which remains missing.

Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak said he was "shocked" by the reports. "We are launching an immediate investigation," he said.

The Kremlin said US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had discussed the crash over the phone.

He said US would offer any assistance it could to determine what happened.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the passengers, wherever they call home."

A statement from the White House said there needed to be a "full, credible and unimpeded" investigation and urged all concerned — Russia, pro-Russians separatists and the Ukraine — to agree to an immediate ceasefire so investigators could gain access to the crash site.

Malaysia Airlines shot down on Ukraine-Russia border. In this Press Association graphic the earlier figure of 295 was given before the airline revised the figure to 298. Source: Supplied


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