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Shelling around MH17 site blocks international police

GRABOVE, Ukraine -- Heavy shelling around the crash site of downed Malaysian flight MH17 forced Dutch and Australian police to scrap a planned visit as they sought to secure the scene 10 days after the disaster.

The unarmed contingent of law enforcement officers were due to head to the location after a deal was struck with rebels aimed at allowing a long-delayed probe into the tragedy to go ahead.

But international observers overseeing the trip had to abruptly ditch their plans after clashes shattered a supposed truce between government forces and insurgents in the area around the site, where some remains of the 298 victims still lie decomposing under the summer sun.

“There is fighting going on. We can't take the risk,” said Alexander Hug, deputy chief monitor of the European security body OSCE's special mission in Ukraine.

“The security situation on the way to the site and on the site itself is unacceptable for our unarmed observer mission,” he told reporters in the insurgent stronghold Donetsk, the biggest city in the region.

An AFP photographer heard artillery bombardments just a kilometer (half a mile) from the rebel-held town of Grabove next to the crash site and saw black smoke billowing into the sky.

Terrified local residents were fleeing and checkpoints controlled by separatist fighters were abandoned.

The Dutch justice ministry confirmed that security advisers had halted their team from visiting the site.

“The team of 30 Dutch forensic experts currently has no safe access to the disaster site. Because of fighting in the area, the situation is still too unstable to work at the crash site,” the ministry said in a statement.

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A resident of the eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk walks past a Ukrainian service man patrolling the outskirts of the city on Saturday, July 26. (AFP)

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