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Fighting Intensifies Around MH17 Crash Site

A woman takes a photograph of wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove in Ukraine's Donetsk region on July 26.
A woman takes a photograph of wreckage at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove in Ukraine's Donetsk region on July 26.

Fighting between Ukrainian military forces and separatist militants has intensified in the area where Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 went down on July 17.

The Ukrainian government reported on July 28 that its forces had captured the city of Debaltsevo and the hill of Saur-Mohyla, in the Donetsk region.

Government troops have also reportedly "entered" the towns of Shakhtarsk and Torez. National Guard units are also reportedly on the outskirts of the city of Horlivka.

The fighting comes as a team of Dutch and Australian police officers were attempting once again to make their way to the MH17 crash site. The Dutch government issued a statement saying the team had turned back amid "explosions."

The team failed to reach the area on July 27.

Government forces are also on the offensive in the Luhansk region, with fighting reported near the city of Pervomaysk.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on July 28 that he hoped the MH17 investigation will respect "the presumption of innocence."

Alexander Hug, deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, told reporters in Donetsk that "the situation on the ground appears to be unsafe" and that he hoped the group of investigators could go to the site on July 28.

A truce was called days earlier in the immediate area around the site by both Kyiv forces and the separatists, but combat has been raging nearby, with loud explosions heard at regular intervals in the western and northern suburbs of rebel stronghold Donetsk.

Ukrainian forces are also fighting rebels close to the wreckage -- which is near the town of Torez -- and reportedly were within 15-20 kilometers of the Malaysian airliner's crash site at some point on July 27.

Investigators want to examine airliner wreckage to determine how it was downed.

Western and Ukrainian officials have said it was shot down with a missile by the insurgents, possibly after mistaking it for a Ukrainian military plane.

Investigators also want to recover personal belongings and some remains of the nearly 300 passengers who were on the flight.

The U.S. State Department on July 27 released satellite images that Washington says support claims rockets have been fired from Russia into Ukraine during the last week.

The State Department released a four-page document that seems to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and crater marks indicating where they landed.

Officials said the images show heavy weapons being fired between July 21 and July 26.

On July 27, at least 13 people, including two small children, were reported killed in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka.

Officials from the Donetsk regional administration said only that the deaths were the result of "military actions" in Horlivka, without mentioning which side might have been responsible.

Fighting around Horlivka, a city of some 250,000, was reportedly intense.

With reporting by Interfax, AFP, AP, dpa, UNIAN, and ITAR-TASS
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