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Obama: Missile Downed Malaysia Plane Over Ukraine

President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Ukraine in the press briefing room of the White House, July 18, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Ukraine in the press briefing room of the White House, July 18, 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama says evidence indicates the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine Thursday was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Speaking at the White House Friday, President Obama called the deaths of the 298 people aboard the plane an "outrage of unspeakable proportions." He noted that at least one American was among the dead.

Obama called for an international investigation into the incident, saying Russia, the separatists and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate cease-fire. He said the tragedy underscores "it is time for peace and security to be restored in Ukraine."

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur at the time of the apparent missile strike.

UN Security Council Meets

At an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting Friday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, noted it is unlikely that the separatists could operate the missile system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. She said technical assistance from Russia cannot be ruled out.

Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, had said Ukraine would present evidence to the Council showing Russia's military was involved in the crash.

Ukraine's government has previously accused the separatists of shooting the plane down, while the rebels blamed government forces. Russia has denied any involvement.

Most of the passengers on the Boeing 777 aircraft were Dutch, and many were scientists heading to an international AIDS conference in Australia.

Obama said Friday the U.S. stands ready to provide any assistance necessary. He said members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board are already on their way to the wreckage site.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also sent about 30 monitors, saying pro-Russian rebels controlling the region granted them safe passage.

Malaysia Airlines says the route where the strike occurred is commonly used for Europe to Asia flights. But the airline says it is now no longer flying planes over Ukrainian airspace, instead routing its aircraft further south over Turkey.

Recovering bodies

The incident sent debris and body parts over a wide area of eastern Ukraine. Bodies fell in fields and inside and outside of village homes.

Emergency workers say more than 180 bodies have been located, while there were conflicting reports about whether the plane's black boxes had been recovered.

Malaysia Airlines says people from at least 10 countries were on board the plane, including 189 from the Netherlands, 44 Malaysians and 27 Australians. The airline says another 12 passengers were Indonesian, nine were British and about a dozen others were from Belgium, Germany, the Philippines, Canada or New Zealand.

A top Malaysia Airlines official says the company will pay $5,000 per passenger to relatives to cover initial expenses.

U.S. intelligence officials say the plane likely was targeted deliberately by someone who may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian military transport plane.

Malaysia sends disaster team

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tion Lai told reporters Friday in Kuala Lumpur that the purposeful shooting down of a passenger jet is against international law and would be an "outrage against human decency."

He said Malaysia is sending a 62-person disaster team to Amsterdam to assist with support to the families of victims.

Eastern Ukraine has been the scene of fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists who have declared independence in some regions with the aim of joining Russia.

Separatists say they have shot down Ukrainian military planes in recent weeks, and Kyiv accused Russia of shooting down a Ukrainian military aircraft Wednesday.

The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Russia Wednesday for failing to take steps to de-escalate the crisis in eastern Ukraine and for providing weapons and support to the rebels

This is the second major tragedy for Malaysia Airlines this year. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 when it disappeared with 239 people on board. It did not send out a distress call and is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. Searchers have found no trace of the plane.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.