Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 "Broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside," said a highly anticipated report by the Dutch Safety Board.

The findings appear to back up claims that the Boeing 777, which crashed in July as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by shrapnel from a missile.

"There are no indications that the MH17 crash was caused by a technical fault or by actions of the crew," the report said.

Kiev and the West have accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane with a surface-to-air BUK missile supplied by Moscow.

But Russia, which denies mounting Western claims of direct involvement in the five-month conflict in Ukraine, blamed government forces for the attack.

The MH17 disaster was the second tragedy for Malaysia Airlines after the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 in March, and threw the global spotlight back on the bloody uprising in eastern Ukraine.

The majority of people on board were Dutch citizens.

The report was issued just a day after the EU announced it was adopting new sanctions on Russia over its role in the conflict in its western neighbour that has killed over 3,000 people including the MH17 victims.

Dutch investigators have been unable to visit the rebel-controlled site in the Donetsk region because of the fighting, and have relied on information from Ukrainian crash specialists for information from the scene.

 

The findings are based on information from the aircraft's black boxes, and pictures and video taken at the scene, as well as information supplied by Ukranian air traffic control.

The Dutch Safety Board the OVV said a full report is not expected until mid-2015.

Shortly after the crash forensic experts travelled to the site to collect body parts, but the search has also been suspended due to heavy fighting in the area.

So far only 193 victims of flight MH17 have been identified.

Air crash investigators hope they may be able to return to the crash site if a ceasefire agreed on Friday between the Ukraine government and the separatist rebels holds.

Kiev has accused the insurgents of repeated violations of the tenuous truce, and today the government said four soldiers had been killed and 29 wounded since Friday.

It also reported that the government-controlled airport outside the main insurgent stronghold of Donetsk was hit by rocket and mortar fire over night.

A woman was also killed on Saturday when rebels launched attacks on the southeastern port city of Mariupol, a key battleground since the insurgents launched a dramatic counter-offensive in the southeast last month.

The European Union agreed new sanctions against Moscow on Monday, but said they could be suspended if the truce does not collapse.

"Depending on the situation on the ground, the EU stands ready to review the agreed sanctions in whole or in part," European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned that Moscow would react to any new punitive steps with an "asymmetrical" measure that could see EU airlines banned from flying over the world's largest country's airspace.

Diplomats said the new EU restrictions bar Russia's largest state-owned oil and defence firms from using European markets to raise capital and slap more asset freezes and travel bans on officials

However, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko have vowed to work to uphold the so-called "protocol" signed in Minsk, the first ceasefire backed by both Kiev and Moscow.

The Kremlin said the two leaders -- who often speak by phone despite only having met twice since Poroshenko's election in May -- agreed to continue discussing "steps to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the situation in southeast Ukraine".

Poroshenko paid a highly symbolic visit to Mariupol yester day, vowing that the port city on a key route between Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula would remain in government hands.

"It is our land. We will not give it up to anyone," he said.

Mariupol has been on edge fearing a full-on offensive by rebels who advanced across the southeast in late August apparently backed by Russian troops and firepower, quickly reversing recent Ukrainian gains.

Poroshenko said there had been 10-12 truce violations a day and called on the OSCE, the pan-European security body that brokered the deal, to send observers to the "dangerous" spots where violence had flared.

Officials also announced on Monday that around 650 Ukrainians held by rebels had been released, one of the conditions of the 12-point Minsk accord.

Latest News from World News Desk