PM: Putin must end support for rebel separatists

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Russian President Vladimir Putin must use his influence to end the conflict in Ukraine, following the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane which killed all on board, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Some 298 people died, including 10 Britons, when flight MH17 crashed in a rebel-held area of Ukraine on 17 July.

Mr Cameron said the weight of evidence suggests the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists.

He said President Putin must halt his support for the rebels or face "a new range of hard-hitting sanctions", during a statement on 21 July 2014.

"I hope he will use this moment to find a path out of this festering and dangerous crisis by ending Russia's support for the separatists.

"If he does not change his approach to Ukraine in this way then European and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia," the PM said.

The UK is set to push for increased sanctions against Russia at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday.

Mr Cameron, who was flanked by his current and former defence secretaries, said he felt it was time for "Tier 3" sanctions on wider sectors of the Russian economy.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman - who was standing in for Ed Miliband on a visit to Washington - described the crash as "a tragedy that shocked the world".

Ms Harman said it was time for "a strong and determined EU to step up its responsibilities and confront the Russian actions".

She welcomed the UK's commitment to tougher sanctions against Russia, and asked the PM if this would include measures against Russian commercial organisations.

The Labour MP also called for a senior minister to be designated to support families of British victims.

Tory former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind described the current sanctions against Russia as "useless", and insisted that the only way to influence President Putin's actions "is to go for his Achilles heel" and introduce widespread financial and economic sanctions.

Gaza

The statement by the prime minister also covered the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Israel has begun a ground offensive in the north of the Gaza strip, which it says is was aimed at destroying tunnel networks used by militants.

Over 500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began. Twenty Israelis, 18 of them soldiers, have also died in the conflict.

The UN says that over 83,000 people have now been displaced in Gaza and that the figure is "rising all the time".

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