Sergei Supinsky / AFP / Getty Images

International investigators reach MH17 crash site

Experts said rebels had turned them back for days, mined area around site

International investigators were allowed access to the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, two weeks after the plane came down and after days of being turned back by pro-Russian rebels.

"[Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] monitors reach MH17 crash site for first time in almost week, accompanied by four Dutch, Australian experts. Used new route to access," the OSCE said on Twitter. 

Ukraine said on Thursday it had suspended offensive operations in its military campaign in the eastern part of the country to help international experts reach the downed airliner's crash site, but separatists were continuing to attack its troops’ positions.

Kiev's military offensive has forced the rebels out of some areas they held, except in their strongholds in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and fighting has intensified since the downing of the plane on July 17.

The United States and some of its Western allies have accused the separatists of shooting down the plane, likely by accident, and say Russia may have supplied the weapons involved. Moscow has denied this, saying the Ukrainian military may have fired on the plane.

Earlier Thursday, local officials announced they had cut food supplies to the rebel stronghold of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine during a military offensive on the city by government forces.

The army said it has almost completely encircled Luhansk but has opened a humanitarian corridor to allow people to flee the city. It said it is not firing on residential areas, although three people were reported killed in overnight shelling.

"Chains of large supermarkets, food shops and markets work intermittently. Food deliveries to the city have stopped, supplies are decreasing every day. Shops only offer products from their stocks," the city authorities said in a statement on their website.

Shelling continued overnight on the outskirts of Donetsk, but no new deaths were reported.

The fighting in the region had prevented a team of more than 50 international experts from reaching the crash site and the remains of 298 people aboard — most of them Dutch — for days.

Ukrainian government security spokesman Andriy Lysenko had added to the security concerns Wednesday by saying separatists "have mined the approaches to this area. This makes the work of the international experts impossible."

The OSCE said it was assessing the security of an alternative route to the site on Thursday.

In Kiev, a lawmaker said parliament had approved legislation on Thursday to allow a larger international mission of military and nonmilitary representatives into Ukraine to help recover the last remains and conduct an investigation. Under this move, the mission will include up to 700 armed personnel. 

The European Union and United States imposed sanctions aimed at broad sectors of Russia's economy and individuals allied with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, restricting sales of equipment for the oil and defense sectors and limiting access by state banks to Western capital markets. 

On Thursday, Russia's consumer protection watchdog said it had stopped imports of Ukrainian juice, Moscow's latest trade ban following new Western sanctions over Ukraine. Russia banned imports of fruit and vegetables from Poland, a staunch defender of increased sanctions against Moscow, on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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