Seeking who shot down Malaysian plane, leaders demand credible investigation in Ukraine
ROZSYPNE, Ukraine (AP) -- World leaders demanded Friday that pro-Russia rebels who control the eastern Ukraine crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 give immediate, unfettered access to independent investigators to determine who shot down the plane.
At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. pointed blame at the separatists, saying Washington believes the jetliner carrying 298 people, including 80 children, likely was downed by an SA-11 missile, and "we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel."
Both the White House and the Kremlin called for peace talks in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-speaking separatists who seek closer ties to Moscow. Heavy fighting was reported less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from
the crash site, with an estimated 20 civilians reported killed.
Emergency workers and local coal miners recovered bodies from grasslands and fields of sunflowers, where the wreckage of the Boeing 777 fell Thursday.
About 30 officials, mostly from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, arrived at the crash site between the villages of Rozsypne and Hrabove, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Russian border.
Gaza's children pay high price for Israel-Hamas fighting: 1 in 5 of dead are minors
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Sobbing and shaking, Ismail Abu Musallam leaned against the wall of a hospital Friday, waiting for three of his children to be prepared for burial.
His personal tragedy is not unique: the U.N. says minors make up one-fifth of the 299 Palestinians killed in 11 days of intense Israeli bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip, where half the 1.7 million people are under age 18.
The Israeli military says it's doing its utmost to spare civilians by urging residents to leave areas that are about to be shelled or bombed as Hamas targets. It accuses the Islamic militants of using civilians as human shields by firing rockets from civilian areas.
But even if urged to evacuate, most Gazans have no safe place to go, rights activists say.
"If you are going to attack civilian structures in densely populated areas, of course you are going to see children killed," said Bill Van Esveld, a researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.
AP Analysis: Downed airliner could harden the conflict in Ukraine -- or spark a solution
PARIS (AP) -- The downing of a passenger jet in Ukraine is likely to be a turning point in the country's conflict. But which way it turns depends mainly on who carried out the attack and how convincingly it can be proved to the world.
With suspicion falling heavily on pro-Russian insurgents, the event could provide an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to disengage from his increasingly uncontrollable allies in eastern Ukraine.
But if enough doubt persists, positions could harden in both Russia and the West. The West could toughen its sanctions against Russia and help Ukraine's military, prompting Putin to dig in for an even higher-stakes battle.
The disaster has already drawn the world closer into the Ukraine conflict, the worst crisis between Russia and the West in a generation.
It also made the fighting painfully real for families from Australia to Amsterdam whose relatives were on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. And it revealed a danger that most people hadn't contemplated: rebels able to strike beyond their own homeland by pointing conventional weapons toward the skies.
Israel presses forth in Gaza ground operation and prepares to "significantly" expand campaign
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli troops pushed into Gaza on Friday in a ground offensive that officials said could last up to two weeks as the prime minister ordered the military to prepare for a "significantly" wider campaign.
The assault raised risks of a bloodier conflict amid rising Palestinian civilian casualties and the first Israeli military death -- and brought questions of how far Israel will go to cripple Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Officially, the goal remains to destroy a network of tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel and attack civilians. In its first day on the ground in Gaza, the military said it took up positions beyond the border, encountered little resistance from Hamas fighters and made steady progress in destroying the tunnels. Military officials said the quick work means that within a day or two, Israeli leaders may already have to decide whether to expand the operation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to prepare for a "significant expansion" of the ground offensive.
"It is not possible to deal with tunnels only from the air. It needs to be done also from the ground," he told a special Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. "We chose to begin this operation after the other options were exhausted and with the understanding that without the operation, the price we will pay can be very high."
AP ANALYSIS: Israel and Hamas share an impatience with the status quo of rockets, blockade
If Israel and Hamas can agree on one point, it seems, it's that things have to change.
That's why cease-fire efforts carried out by Egypt and backed by the West have until now failed, and it's why Israel decided to roll the dice and launch a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip with a huge potential to turn ugly.
Now comes a pivotal question: With Hamas weakened by a regional realignment, will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu up the ante by attempting to oust the Islamic militant group from power in the Palestinian territory? The risks would match the temptation -- but if it can be done with minimal loss of life, most Israelis, as well as others in the region and around the world, would probably be with him.
Judging by Netanyahu's words Friday, escalation is on the table, but for now the goal remains the more modest yet frustratingly elusive one of ending the attacks from Gaza.
That's what Israelis want: after over a decade of intermittent rockets, their range increasing by the year and now covering much of their country, they're fed up. The Iron Dome air defense system is able to intercept most missiles, but the disruption and humiliation of the threat is simply too much.
US begins building case aimed at tying pro-Russian forces to plane shot down over Ukraine
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States began building a case Friday linking pro-Russian separatists to the shocking downing of a passenger jet in Ukraine. A somber President Barack Obama declared the deaths of those on board, including at least one American, an "outrage of unspeakable proportions."
Obama said the U.S. believes the Malaysia Airlines plane was felled by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area near the Ukraine-Russia border that is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists. Even as he cautioned that the exact circumstances were still being determined, the president turned his sights on Russia, saying the insurgents would not be capable of carrying out such an attack without Moscow's support.
"We know that they are heavily armed and they are trained, and we know that that's not an accident," Obama said. "That is happening because of Russian support."
The president spoke shortly after Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined preliminary evidence against Russia and the separatists during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Power said separatists were spotted Thursday with an SA-11 anti-aircraft missile at a location close to the site where the plane came down and that they had boasted on social media sites about shooting down a plane, then later deleted those posts.
Power joined Obama in calling for an immediate international investigation, and she warned that the separatists and those supporting them would have "good reason to cover up evidence of their crime." The U.S. has called for evidence from the crash site to remain in Ukraine until investigators determine who is responsible.