Malaysia jet shot down by rebels, killing 298, Ukraine says

Malaysia jet shot down by rebels, killing 298, Ukraine says

A Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, in an attack that the government in Kiev blamed on pro-Russian rebels. The separatists denied the accusation.

Ukraine's state security service said it intercepted phone conversations among militants discussing the missile strike, which knocked Flight 17 from the sky within 50 kilometres of the Russian border. US officials said the weapon probably was a Russian-made model used widely in Eastern Europe.

The Boeing Co 777 crashed en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam in the main battleground of Ukraine's civil war, threatening to escalate tensions in Europe's worst geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War. A European air-traffic control agency routed planes away from the region, which sits astride some of the busiest routes to and from Asia.

President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly denied Russian involvement in the fighting, said Ukraine's government bore responsibility because the crash wouldn't have occurred without the current strife. He said he also directed Russian military and civilian authorities to "investigate this crime," according to a transcript of his remarks to Cabinet ministers.

US President Barack Obama called Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to offer condolences and "immediate assistance to support a prompt international investigation," according to a White House statement. The United Nations Security Council is holding an emergency meeting on the incident later today.

Flight 370

It was the second major disaster for Malaysian Airline System Bhd this year. Flight 370 vanished with 239 people on board in March en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, sparking what has become the world's longest search for a missing jetliner in modern aviation history.

The disappearance of Flight 370 baffled authorities as contact was lost less than an hour into the journey with no emergency warnings. The jet went off civil radar while headed north and then changed direction to fly steadily over the equator. No debris has been found after months of combing the Indian Ocean.

While the motive behind the turn back from its original route remains unknown, MH370 was deliberately steered south, Mr Najib has said.

Malaysia isn't yet able to verify why Flight 17 went down, and there was no distress call, Mr Najib said today. Even as the Obama administration didn't publicly speculate about the details of the crash, Australia, which had at least 27 citizens on the plane, said Russian support for Ukrainian separatists put Mr Putin's government in line for some of the blame.

'Russian Proxies'

"They are Russian proxies, essentially," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in an interview with 3AW radio. "If, as now seems certain, it's been brought down by a Russian- supplied surface-to-air missile, Russia bears a heavy share of responsibility."

Separatist groups in Donetsk in Ukraine agreed to close the crash site, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said in an e-mailed statement. They agreed to provide safe access, security guarantees to investigators and OSCE monitors, and to cooperate with Ukrainian authorities, it said.

Asian stocks fell and the ringgit led declines among emerging-market currencies as investors shunned riskier assets after the crash, and as Israel sent troops into Gaza. The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index slipped 0.4% by 12:49pm in Tokyo, falling for the first time this week. Malaysian Airline shares tumbled 11% and the ringgit weakened 0.3%.

AIDS Conference

Flight 17 carried 283 passengers and 15 crew members, with 154 Dutch travellers the biggest national group, according to a tally by Malaysian Air. There were 43 Malaysians on board, including crew, the airline said, with passengers from the UK, Germany, Belgium, Indonesia and Canada.

Family members gathered at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport from about 2am local time, some of them crying.

A Dutch scientist and a World Health Organization spokesman heading to an AIDS meeting in Melbourne were among those killed. Many passengers were en route to the 20th International AIDS conference, Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS said on his Twitter page.

The US is reviewing if any of its citizens were on the flight, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. The US called for unfettered access to the crash site and a credible and unimpeded investigation, the White House said in an e-mailed statement. It is vital that no evidence be tampered with, it said, and the US is prepared to offer assistance through the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the National Transportation Safety Board.

33,000 Feet

Flight 17 was at about 33,000 feet - taking a route over eastern Ukraine that Qantas Airways Ltd and many Asian carriers avoided - when it was struck, putting it at an altitude cleared for commercial traffic, according to navigation agency Eurocontrol. Airspace in the region had been restricted from the ground up to 32,000 feet, and airlines are now being denied permission to fly over eastern Ukraine, Eurocontrol said.

"The routes will remain closed until further notice," the Brussels-based agency said in a statement.

US military and intelligence agencies said that while they're still investigating, it increasingly appears that Flight 17 was downed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile known by its NATO designation SA-11 Gadfly.

Radar Guided

There is a growing belief that Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine or Russia may have mistaken the jet for a Ukrainian military transport plane, said two Pentagon officials who asked not to be identified because the details are private. Some rebels are Russian or Ukrainian military veterans who may have been trained on the Gadfly, a US intelligence official said.

The Gadfly missile, known locally as the BUK-M, is a radar- guided weapon that can find a target at a range of 140 miles and reach altitudes as high about 72,000 feet, according to the army-technology.com website.

"The separatists could have only gotten that capability from Russia," US senator John McCain said when asked what the ramifications would be if pro-Russian forces shot down the jetliner. "Therefore the culpable party here is Vladimir Putin."

Ukraine has more proof beyond the telephone intercepts of rebels' involvement, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, acting chairman of the state security service, said in Kiev, without giving details.

Russia Sanctions

Insurgent leader Andrei Purgin denied the rebels were behind the attack, telling Bloomberg by phone that the Ukrainian army shot down the plane by mistake and the separatists didn't have a weapon that could reach that altitude.

The incident occurred just days after the US said pro- Russian rebels are getting weapons from Russia and tightened sanctions against the country. After Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year, the US accused it of trying to foment unrest in Ukraine's east, a claim Putin rejects.

A White House official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said that over the past month, the flow of heavy weapons from Russia and support for Russian separatists has increased. The tactics of rebels in eastern Ukraine have also grown more sophisticated, the official said.

Ukraine has already lost multiple aircraft to the rebels. Earlier this week, the government said an An-26 transport plane was hit by a "powerful weapon" not previously used by the separatists, probably from inside Russia.

The insurgents want to become part of Russia and have appealed to Mr Putin to send military assistance. Mr Putin has refused, and last month asked lawmakers in Moscow to rescind the authorization they gave him March 1 to use force in Ukraine.

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