Team defies fighting to reach MH17

Explosions rang out near the crash site of downed Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine as international investigators arrived for the first time after Kiev announced a one-day halt to its offensive against rebels.

A small team of Dutch and Australian experts accompanied by international monitors reached the vast site of the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet after days of fierce fighting had repeatedly stopped them reaching the area.

The Dutch Justice Ministry said the team was only a "reconnaissance" mission but would hopefully pave the way for more experts to visit soon.

But in a sign of the continuing insecurity, loud blasts rang out close to the site and black smoke rose from a village close to where some of the plane wreckage is lying.

Ukraine's military had earlier announced a "day of quiet" across the entire east after a plea from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to halt fighting in the area of the crash.

But Kiev - which has blamed rebels controlling the site for blocking the probe - warned that insurgents had continued shelling its troop positions around the region.

The Ukrainian military also claimed Russian-backed separatists were fortifying the crash zone with heavy weapons.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop suggested Russia was actively undermining attempts to investigate the MH17 disaster, saying she was alarmed by reports rebels were placing landmines on the road to the crash site.

"We've had the strongest possible support from the Ukrainian Government but still the fighting goes on and there is no ceasefire," she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed plans for a national memorial service for the victims in Melbourne on Thursday.

He said he was determined to get Australian investigators through to the crash site but the team would not take unnecessary risks.

"We're not going to take unnecessary risks but we are prepared to take reasonable risks to do an important job," Mr Abbott said.

"Because let's never forget . . . 38 innocent Australians have been murdered."

In recent days Mr Abbott has expressed frustration with both the Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army, which continues to advance on the site in apparent violation of a United Nations resolution demanding a ceasefire.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the separatists were digging in for battle. He said they had brought in heavy artillery and mined the area.

Mr Abbott and his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte have suggested if investigators cannot get through to the site by August 17, they could abandon the mission.

The West Australian

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