KHARKIV, Ukraine — An international push to secure the crash site of a Malaysian passenger jet shot down by a missile over eastern Ukraine stalled on Saturday, with the leader of a Dutch forensic mission announcing that scores of foreign police officers and experts gathered at a luxury hotel here would not start moving toward the site for at least five days.
Jan Tuinder, the head of a Dutch mission comprising 40 unarmed military police officers and around 20 forensic specialists, said the delay was needed to give the Ukrainian parliament time to vote Thursday to provide a “legal basis’’ for the deployment of foreign police officers on Ukrainian territory.
Efforts to reach the crash site had previously been hindered by heavily armed pro-Russia rebels, who control the area, but now another obstacle appears to be Ukraine, whose military has been gaining ground against the rebels and is wary of halting its offensive.
The jet, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, crashed in territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia rebels on July 17, and while most of the bodies of the 298 victims of Flight 17 have now been recovered and flown to the Netherlands for identification, forensic investigators have not been able to reach the area in sufficient numbers to ensure that all the bodies have been found and collect debris that could provide evidence of who brought the plane down. The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.
Officials from the Netherlands and other countries that lost citizens on the Malaysian jet had previously made no mention of any vote by parliament and instead blamed the rebels for stalling access to the site. On Saturday morning, Dutch police officers assembled in Kharkiv said they expected to leave for the crash area in the next day or so.
But Volodymyr Groysman, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister leading Ukraine’s response to the crash, said at a news conference in Kiev, the capital, on Friday that parliament needed to endorse the deployment of foreign investigators in Ukraine and that he hoped that this could happen “next week.’’
The delay could help reduce growing pressure on Ukraine to agree to a swift cease-fire with rebel fighters so that foreign investigators can travel to the crash site on a road heading south from Kharkiv, which runs through an area that saw heavy fighting Saturday.
A team of seven Dutch forensic experts who tried to reach the crash site on that route early Saturday gave up after running into fighting. A separate group of four Dutch experts managed to reach the crash site Friday but planned to pull out after heavy fighting erupted overnight in Donetsk, the capital of the rebels’ self-proclaimed republic.
Ukrainian and U.S. officials say the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.
Russia, worried that the rebels, whose cause it supports, are losing ground, has repeatedly called for a pause in hostilities, a demand that Ukrainian officials dismiss as a ploy to give the rebels time to regroup and obtain new weapons from Russia.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke on Saturday to the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, and according to a brief statement on the Kremlin website, the two men agreed on the need to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire around the crash site to ensure the “unhampered work of international experts in the catastrophe area.’’
Australia, which lost dozens of citizens in the plane crash, is sending 100 members of its federal police force, some of them armed, as well as members of its military to Kharkiv to join the hunt for any remaining bodies and evidence from Flight 17, Australian news media reported.
Debris from the crash is scattered over dozens of square miles and the site remains unguarded despite growing reports of tampering with the plane wreckage and passenger items there.
Tuinder, the Dutch police official, said the focus of foreign experts assembling in Kharkiv was the recovery of any remaining bodies, not investigating who downed the plane.
Asked whether he worried that the long delay in securing the crash site might hamper the collection of evidence, he said, “there is a bit of concern’’ that pieces of debris would “disappear’’ but added that progress was being made.
Russia has said it supports efforts to investigate the crash, but a television station with close ties to the Kremlin added a potentially serious obstacle on Friday with a report that seemed intended to provoke hostility toward foreign investigators among the rebels.
Life News, a Russian television station whose reports often veer into wild conspiracy theories, suggested that the Dutch government would use the crash investigation as a pretext to infiltrate special forces in rebel-held territory and hunt down and seize the separatists’ military commander, a Russian citizen known as Igor Strelkov.
The Dutch police reacted with horror to the report, noting that none of the military police officers currently in Kharkiv awaiting deployment to the crash site had weapons.
“This whole story is total nonsense,’’ said Esther Naber, a Dutch police spokeswoman. She said the Dutch Embassy in Moscow was working to assure the Russians that the Dutch had no secret plan to seize Strelkov.
Its own on-the-ground investigation stymied for the moment, the Dutch National Police appealed for videos and photographs taken at the crash site and set up a website for the submission of video and images.
Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, will fly to the Netherlands on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Mark Rutte about gaining better access to the disaster site and identifying the dead, Najib’s office said in an email Saturday. At least 30 more investigators are needed to cover the site, his office said.
“Unfortunately, events on the ground — including ongoing fighting between Ukrainian and separatist forces — prevent such a large contingent of investigators being deployed,’’ said the email.
In Moscow, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued two statements Saturday but did not address the question of investigating the crash. The foreign ministry instead criticized the European Union for sanctioning some of Russia’s top security officials and blamed Washington for the continued fighting in Ukraine.
“The additional sanctions list is direct evidence that the countries of the EU are determined to completely scale back cooperation with Russia on issues of global and regional security,’’ the statement said.
The EU sanctions, announced Friday, impose travel bans and asset freezes on 15 additional Russians and Ukrainians, including the director of Russia’s main security service, the FSB, and the head of the country’s foreign intelligence service, along with top figures in the breakaway republics of southeastern Ukraine.
The measures also apply to 18 additional organizations, including nine companies in Crimea that were nationalized by Moscow.
In two unusual episodes, the Ukrainian authorities reported that the mayor of the central town of Kremenchug was shot and killed Saturday morning by an unknown assassin and that a grenade was fired at the home of the mayor of Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine.
The Lviv mayor, Andriy Sadovyi, who was an active supporter of the pro-European demonstrations during the winter, was not home at the time. The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said the attacks did not appear to be related.
Reaching the Flight 17 crash site, a rural area east of Donetsk, has always been problematic, but it became even more difficult Saturday after fighting flared around Horlivka, a town on the main road into Donetsk that is still controlled by the rebels.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Saturday that Horlivka was the last major rebel redoubt on the road to Donetsk, and that the military continued to gain momentum in its campaign to regain control of the Donets Basin region.
In the city of Donetsk, the smoldering ruins of several homes hit by stray artillery shells, downed power lines looping across the streets, and blown-off tree branches scattered about the sidewalks in an outlying neighborhood testified to the Ukrainian Army’s approach from the north and west. The streets were deserted but for elderly people, who apparently had nowhere to go as the fight closed in.
The shells struck several vacant homes overnight, residents said. By afternoon, black smoke rose from the positions occupied by the Ukrainian army at the city’s airport and by rebels at an abandoned mine several miles away.
For now, there was no sign of a ground attack into the city, where the neighborhoods are fortified with separatist foxholes and trenches in parks and the green space of traffic circles.
On Saturday, Sergei Senikov, 53, a retiree, sprinkled the ruins of his home with a garden hose. A stray shell had landed on the roof around 11 the night before while he and his family were having dinner at a relative’s home. “Thank God for that,’’ he said.
The house was demolished, charred. Cherry and apricot branches lay strewn about the yard. Asked who was at fault, Senikov said he had no way of knowing. “There are two contingents here,’’ he said. “One is defending, the other attacking,’’ and both are shooting.
“There will be a big fight for Donetsk,’’ he said.