Bodies of Malaysia Airlines plane crash victims return to Netherlands

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

KIEV, Ukraine — As about 1,000 relatives of the dead from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 gathered on Wednesday to meet the first bodies returned to the Netherlands, European anger at Russia's involvement in the months-long conflict in eastern Ukraine appeared to grow as the pro-Russia separatists in the region reportedly shot down two more military jets.

The first 40 bodies, still unidentified, of the 298 dead from Flight 17 were flown from Ukraine to Eindhoven, Netherlands. The ill-fated flight left from Amsterdam, and 193 of the dead were Dutch. The solemn crowd that gathered in Eindhoven included relatives of the dead as well as the Dutch king, queen and prime minister.

As they were mourning, German officials indicated they had run out of patience with the lack of progress by Russia in clearing the way for an investigation into the crash.

The German Foreign Office issued a statement saying: “Now it's enough.”

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday that she is troubled by the lack of progress being made by Russia in the Ukrainian crisis. The spokesman, Georg Streiter, said Merkel now believes that tougher sanctions are required. Russia is not adequately supporting the investigation of the crash, Streiter said.

Guenther Oettinger, the European Union energy commissioner and a career German politician, was quoted by European media as criticizing Russian inactivity and saying that Europe should consider pulling its technical assistance to Russia in developing its Arctic oil and gas fields.

“If they don't try for peace in the east of Ukraine,” he told reporters, “if they don't decisively try to do something to prevent escalation, then there is no reason for us to help promote the growth of their industry and develop new resources for gas and oil and therefore to put this equipment on the list of sanctions.”

German pressure on Russia is seen as pivotal in the effort to force a Russian response, as Germany has been viewed as hesitant to date because of deep business ties with Russia. Just this weekend, in The Sunday Times of London, British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an opinion piece highly critical of Germany's soft stance on Russia thus far in the Ukraine crisis.

In a phrase that seemed to be aimed at Merkel's government, Cameron noted there is “anger that some in the West, instead of finding the resolve to deal with this issue, have simply hoped it would go away.”

Cameron went on to write: “In Europe we should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries. . . . We should not need to be reminded of the lessons of European history.”

Separatists fighting the Kiev government claimed credit for shooting down two warplanes over eastern Ukraine near where the passenger airliner crashed last week on being struck by a missile.

The attack on the warplanes occurred just six days after the Malaysia Airlines disaster, which has drawn international outrage and showcased the advanced firepower that apparently is available on the ground in the region. The Ukrainian military said the two planes were flying at nearly 17,000 feet — an altitude that is out of the reach of the shoulder-fired missiles the rebels said they had used to down the jets. Neither the government's nor the rebels' claims could be verified.

McClatchy Newspapers, The Washington Post and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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