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Bodies of victims of plane crash removed from war zone

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KHARKIV, Ukraine – A train bearing the dead from the downed Malaysian airliner finally reached Ukrainian government-held territory Tuesday, but the pro-Russian separatists in control of the crash site showed little willingness to allow the full-scale investigation demanded by world leaders.

Five days after the plane was blown out of the sky, refrigerated railcars bearing victims’ bodies – gathered up after several days in the sun – rolled out of the war zone and into a weedy rail yard in the city of Kharkiv.

The dead will be flown to the Netherlands, the homeland of most of the victims, for identification.

The Dutch government declared today a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies in the afternoon.

It was unclear how many of the 282 corpses reported found so far were on the train. The crash killed all 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Jan Tuinder, the Dutch official in charge of the international team dealing with the dead, said that at least 200 bodies were aboard the train and that more remains could be found once the body bags are examined fully.

In other developments Tuesday:

  • Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Russia was responsible for “creating the conditions” that led to the shooting down of Flight 17, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

  • In Brussels, the European Union spared Russia sweeping new sanctions for now. The 28-nation bloc imposed punitive measures against Russian individuals but didn’t target entire sectors of the economy, preferring to wait for a clearer picture of last week’s disaster and Moscow’s suspected role.

The release of the bodies came amid other indications of progress: The black boxes were handed over to Malaysia Airlines, and three airline investigators were given access to the site Tuesday.

Still, there was no sign of a full investigation, and it was unclear when one could take place.

Rebel leader Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, was quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency as saying the insurgents are willing to guarantee the security of all international experts. It was not clear if that meant the unfettered access world leaders are demanding.

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