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Egyptian sumo wrestler storms his way into ancient sport

Egyptian sumo wrestler storms his way into ancient sport

“This sport is about two elephants pushing each other,” he recalls thinking.


“I’m a body builder, man. It’s so ugly for me, I will never do it.”

Now Osunaarashi, 22, is the first Egyptian, first African, first Arab and first Muslim to muscle his way into sumo’s professional ranks, so proud of his heritage that he observed the Ramadan fast during a just-ended tournament.

This meant neither eating nor drinking from 3 a.m to 7 p.m. despite grappling with wrestlers whose weight averaged 150 kg (330 lbs) in temperatures up to 33 C (91 F)

“The food was not a problem, but water was. It was the hardest part,” Osunaarashi told Reuters in an extremely rare interview at his lively sumo “stable”, as the wrestlers’ gym and residence is called, just outside the central city of Nagoya.

“Without Ramadan, I just have a small headache after the fight. But in Ramadan, in this tournament, every day I have a really strong headache that I never had before.”

Bulking up is one of the principles of sumo, which pits two giant, glowering wrestlers, clad in loincloths, against each other. Bouts take place on a raised sand ring and the first wrestler forced out loses, with the outcome decided in seconds.

Slapping is permitted, punching and hair-pulling are not.

Sumo tournaments are broadcast daily, but fight for audience with sports like football. It has trouble attracting new wrestlers within Japan as the rigours of daily life scare off enthusiasts.

Wrestlers down mammoth, protein-laden meals, often followed by naps. But Osunaarashi, whose sumo name means “Giant Sandstorm,” forewent this during Ramadan, trimming some 5 kg from his 156-kg, 1.88-metre (6 ft 2 inch) frame.

“You just have to do it,” he said as younger wrestlers made lunch and sang along to a television. As is customary while relaxing, many wore only underwear – patterned boxer shorts – though Osunaarashi wore a green yukata, an informal kimono.

He shrugged off the fast as another challenge in adapting to the tradition-bound, 1,500 year-old sport.

“It’s part of life,” he said.


Born Abdelrahman Shalan near Cairo, he began body building at 11 and was 14 when he saw a fellow enthusiast do an unusual high, straight leg lift followed by a stomp. He asked if the man needed help, only to be told it was an iconic sumo move.

Persuaded to try “that ugly sport”, the teen eyed potential opponents at the sumo gym and expected to win.

“Then they made me fight the lightest weight. I was 120 kg, he was 60 kg. He kicked my arse seven times,” he said.

“When I went back home, even before taking a shower I opened my computer to know the meaning of sumo … at 11 or 12 at night. I finished at eight in the morning.”

He sought ways of getting to Japan while training and studying accounting. He finally made it in 2011 after winning several international amateur tournaments.

Although half the top division wrestlers are foreign, mainly Mongolian, he was rejected by six stables before the Otake stable took him on.

There followed months of gruelling training and adapting to the language and traditions of communal life, including chores like cleaning toilets and preparing meals. Even Japan’s ubiquitous bows seemed odd.

“In Egypt, when you greet somebody, you don’t really bow your head. We always said you just do this for God, you don’t do this for other men,” Osunaarashi said.

Within two years, he made it to the top “makuuchi” division. By the most recent tournament, he was aiming for promotion to the fourth of nine ranks, an achievement that would improve his earnings and lifestyle.

His ultimate goal is to become a yokozuna grand champion, and he dreams of lifting the Emperor’s Cup for winning a tournament. He beat two yokozuna this tournament.

Osunaarashi fell one match short of a winning record, but remains determined to make history.

“I have to make my parents, my family, my country proud of me,” he said. “I have to prove (myself) to the people who said, ‘We don’t need you.'”

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

War and Peace at an Austrian castle

War and Peace at an Austrian castle

With ongoing conflict in Gaza, the Ukraine, Syria and countless other hot spots around the world, one can be excused for thinking that peace is a concept for dreamers and academics.



Well in a way it is, and every year those dreamers and academics get together in an Austrian castle to burnish their shields and sharpen their swords in the fight for peace.


Burg Schlaining is a remarkably well preserved castle a couple of hours’ drive south of Vienna.


It’s at least eight centuries old and has seen more than its share of bloodshed and battle.


But today it’s known as “the peace castle”, where people from all over the world come to learn about peace and prevention of bloodshed.


And young people who’ve come here for the summer academy are keen to talk about war, peace and what can be done about it.


“My name is Maximilian Lakitsch, I come from Linz in Upper Austria. My name is Philippa Fennes and I am from Germany and I am studying in Tübingen right now. My name is Guillaume de-Perlinghi and I am originally from Belgium. My name is Abdi, I come from Somalia.”


These students of conflict resolution are debating “violence for peace” – can intervention with force be justified in order to end a conflict?


Maximilian, Philippa and Guillaume explains why this is a hot issue.


MAX: Because in a lot of cases people are calling for this intervention and the same people then are doubting that this was the right means to do it. Look at Rwanda. Murder and the situation was really really bad and the international community didn’t do anything and a lot of criticism was raised.//PHILIPPA: Often times interventions are framed as something easy, or they’re a good choice to quickly solve a conflict but that obviously isn’t the case as we have seen with Iraq – for example – and it’s really interesting that the same kind of arguments have been brought up in the case of Syria. People appear to make the same arguments even though history has shown that it’s not that easy and that a quick intervention in Iraq can turn into.. the conflict it has turned into.// GUILLAUME: When the opposition uses measures such as in Iraq and Syria and Libya, it is very hard when you are trying to find peace⦠and keep your hands clean, as one would say.


In another domed hall, in another wing of this fortress designed for fighting, voices are being raised in praise of peace.


The peace castle has its own peace choir.


The song is from Azerbaijan.


The lyrics urge all mothers, fathers, daughters and sons to call for peace with all their hearts.


Meanwhile, the students of conflict resolution have begun discussing the future.


Given the numerous conflicts beyond the walls of their castle, do they feel hope or hopelessness?


“PHILIPPA: I think the problem these days is that for the future I think something needs to change with the focus much more on prevention in order to, yeah prevent, new conflicts from turning hot. //GUILLIAUME: I think that what Philippa just mentioned is exactly correct. I believe that all of us who are here in Burg Schlaining are here, in some way we have to be hopeful, we have to believe that by working on these topics, by discussing it, that it does, slowly, surely maybe, starting locally, by what we can do personally, in our own lives, then lead to, a change in the way people think, here and there.//ABDI: Military intervention isn’t a solution so maybe there is other means you know, to bring, for the country, for all the people, peace you know. No one can live without peace.”


The peace choir is working on its pitch for a concert later in the evening.


But in other parts of the castle there’s intense debate about whether violence deployed in the name of ending war, can ever bring peace.



Deadly shelling only hours into Gaza truce

Deadly shelling only hours into Gaza truce

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, Aug 1 AFP – Israeli shelling killed eight people in Gaza just hours into a three-day truce, medics said, as a diplomatic push for a more durable end to the bloodshed gained pace.


The skies over Gaza initially fell silent after the humanitarian truce came into effect at 1500 AEST, the latest and longest of several agreed since the conflict broke out on July 8.

It gave a brief respite to residents of the battered strip, after 25 days of violence that killed 1459 on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 61 soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had said earlier that once the ceasefire was under way, Israeli and Palestinian representatives, including from Hamas, would begin talks in Cairo on a more durable truce.

The ceasefire was a joint US-UN initiative and would give civilians “a much needed reprieve”, Kerry said in New Delhi.

“This is a respite, a moment of opportunity – not an end. It’s not a solution,” he warned, saying Israeli forces would remain inside Gaza and to carry out “defensive” operations to destroy tunnels used to attack its territory.

As the truce began, Gaza doctor Belal al-Dabour tweeted: “This ceasefire should give us a glimpse on our life for the coming months after Israel destroyed everything. It’s not going to be pretty.

“Calm. Let’s sleep y’all!”

But within hours an AFP journalist on the Israeli side of the border heard air raid sirens warning of a rocket attack, and the sound of outgoing Israeli artillery fire.

Medics said eight people were killed in bombardment east of the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza, as heavy shelling of the area was heard.

Israel immediately accused Hamas and other Gaza militants of committing a “flagrant breach” of the truce.

Israeli tank and air fire killed 14 Palestinians in Gaza prior to Friday’s ceasefire deadline, and the army said five of its soldiers died in mortar fire near the border with the Palestinian coastal enclave.

While the ceasefire had been accepted in the name of all militant groups by Hamas, the main power in Gaza, the Islamist movement stressed it was dependent on Israel reciprocating.

“Hamas and all the resistance movements have accepted a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire from 8:00 am Friday which will be respected by all these movements if the other party also observes the ceasefire,” said spokesman Fawzi Barhum.

A source in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel has accepted the US/UN proposal for a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning 8:00 am Friday”.

Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar welcomed the ceasefire, as did British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

“We should now redouble our efforts and leave no stone unturned, to ensure this is a lasting and durable ceasefire to make way for substantial discussions to resolve the underlying issues on both sides,” said Hammond.

Only minutes before the deadline, Palestinians had continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, with five brought down by missile defences, army radio said.

A woman and at least two children were among the 14 Palestinian killed by Israeli tank fire and an air strike in the southern Gaza Strip early Friday, the emergency services said.

The Israeli army said that “five soldiers were killed during operational activity along the border with the Gaza Strip when a mortar was fired at the forces.”

The ceasefire came after the UN Security Council expressed “grave disappointment” that repeated calls for a truce had not been heeded, and demanded a series of humanitarian breaks to ease conditions for civilians trapped in the war-torn territory.

Egypt has invited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to send delegates to Cairo for longer-term truce talks.

“Egypt emphasises the importance of both sides committing to the ceasefire so the negotiations can take place in a favourable atmosphere,” the foreign ministry in Cairo said.

The delegations were expected to start arriving in Cairo later on Friday.

English FA tightens betting rules for new season

English FA tightens betting rules for new season

The draconian new rules mean betting on any match, be it domestic or anywhere in the world, will be prohibited from the start of the 2014-15 season.


Betting on off-field developments such as managerial sackings and player transfers will also be banned.

The crackdown applies to bets made in person, online, on the telephone or through a friend or any third party, the FA states on its website which contains a video explaining the tightening of its gambling rules.

Previously, only betting on a match or competition in which an individual was involved, or could influence, was prohibited.

That restriction will be retained for minor league clubs.

Earlier this year the FA’s general secretary Alex Horne said match-fixing and spot-fixing were “not big issues” in the English game despite several arrests as part of a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.

However, with massive rise in online betting sites, allowing punters to bet on a huge range of match-related markets, and a steady stream of match-fixing cases from around the world, the FA is tightening its net.

It has even turned to former Italian player and now Aston Villa academy coach Simone Farina to help get the message over.

Farina played a key role in 2011 stopping a match-fixing attempt while playing for Serie B club Gubbio – his evidence leading to the arrest of 17 people.


“Footballers need to be strong and say no to match-fixing,” Farina, who went to the Italian police after being offered 200,000 euros (159,117 pounds) to throw a match, said in a video on the FA’s website.

“The FA are working hard to educate children, footballers, coaches and referees. It’s everybody’s responsibility to play fair.”

Several arrests and prosecutions for match-fixing occurred in English semi-professional football last season.

England and Tottenham Hotspur winger Andros Townsend was also banned for four months, three of them suspended, after betting on televised matches while on loan the previous season.

“I was bored and there were TV ads promoting bets you could have on the matches I was watching,” he was quoted at the time.

“So I downloaded the phone app and started having small wagers to make watching games as a neutral fun.

“I was incredibly naive and didn’t realise I was doing anything wrong,” he added. “I assumed as long as you weren’t betting on your club, then it was OK.”

Horne said the new rules would avoid any grey areas.

“We want to keep our message as simple as possible – and it cannot be more simple that as a player you cannot bet at all on football,” he said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O’Brien)

Close call for SBS journalist amid shooting near MH17 crash site

Close call for SBS journalist amid shooting near MH17 crash site

SBS journalist Nick Lazaredes is lucky to be alive after gunfire erupted near the MH17 crash site.


Speaking from Ukraine this morning, Lazaredes told SBS Radio he had set out for the crash site with a team several hours after the reconnaissance mission.

He said the group passed through a series of rebel check posts before reaching the edge of the crash site.

Reporter @lazaredes fleeing #MH17 crash site at #Petropavlovka: “There’s no ceasefire. No ceasefire at all.” #ukraine @DatelineSBS @SBSNews

— Calliste Weitenberg (@callirachel) July 31, 2014

“We could see parts of the aircraft on the ground around us,” he said. “The ground was burning all around.”

“We put our heads down and drove out. We were fired upon again as we drove out.”

Apprehensive about explosions further in, Lazaredes said they held back. Other journalists who ventured further reported being threatened by separatists.

After an hour and a half, the group tried to leave the site but were blocked by a tree that had fallen across the road. They contacted the local mayor, who said she would come and guide them to safety. 

It was then gunfire broke out near the group.

Listen to the full interview with Greg Dyett:

“We hit the ground,” Lazaredes said. “And eventually our driver managed to get us out of the situation. He took off his shirt, which was white, and waved it out of the car.”

“We put our heads down and drove out. We were fired upon again as we drove out.”

It was not clear whether the shooting was crossfire between the two sides, or was aimed at the SBS crew.

He said the incident was a clear sign that the separatists were highly volatile.

“There’s a major military offensive going on there,” he said.

Lazaredes noted that while he and other journalists refer to the men at the site as “separatists,” it is not clear exactly who they are, and could be Ukrainian.

Can confirm @DatelineSBS team on ground in #Ukraine now safe. Heading bk to #Donetsk.No one hurt. Events not a good sign for @OSCE #MH17 ops

— Calliste Weitenberg (@callirachel) July 31, 2014

He said witnessing the chaos had brought home what a difficult task the Australian MH17 team had ahead of them.

“To have to negotiate your safe passage every day into this mess is going to be really difficult,” he said.

“The prime minister has said we’re going to be in it for the long haul and I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to be.”

Call to block welfare recipients from buying alcohol with controlled cash cards

Call to block welfare recipients from buying alcohol with controlled cash cards

Mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has released an ambitious plan to change the way Australia tackles welfare, challenging the Abbott government to act.


Under the scheme all welfare recipients, except aged pensioners and veterans, would be forced into income management with no discretionary spending.

Mr Forrest also wants all families receiving family tax benefits to have their access to the money directly linked to their children’s school attendance.

The government has labelled the report as worthy of consideration but ahead of its time.

Initially Twiggy Forrest was asked by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to look at ways to get the Indigenous unemployment rate down.

But the report he’s handed to the government is much broader than that, tackling school attendance, housing, and welfare for all – not just Indigenous – Australians.

Under the proposals all welfare recipients, other than age or veterans’ pensioners, would have their payments put into a savings account that could be drawn on only with a so-called ‘healthy welfare’ card.

The card would restrict spending to purchases that sustain and support a healthy lifestyle.

It would be programmed to block cash withdrawals and the purchase of alcohol, gambling and illicit services and gift cards at the point of sale.

Mr Forrest says it’s time the issue is tackled as a national one, and not merely an Indigenous one.

“I stand here as a servant of the Indigenous people,” he said.

“Right across Australia and in the review which may I assure you I was able to guide, but the ideas, the initiatives and the courage came from the Indigenous people themselves, came from the most vulnerable people, Indigenous first Australian and Australian.”

“This is their review. This is their day. This is their change of direction – if we can muster that will.”

His recommendations also include providing comprehensive case management for vulnerable children up to the age of three to allow for early detection of developmental delays.

A Creating-Parity website would monitor efforts to end welfare dependence and close the disadvantage gap.

Mr Forrest wants new job centres in remote areas that fund training only when it is linked to a guaranteed job.

The report also recommends linking the Family Tax Benefit to school attendance so parents could be penalised if their children failed to attend school regularly.

He also wants Commonwealth funding to the states to be tied to school attendance.

Mr Forrest has called for courage from the Prime Minister and for bi-partisan support to change the system once and for all.  

“I reach out now to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Tania Plibersek, opposition spokespeople, and government. Lay aside the political cudgels. Lay aside short-term thinking. Lay aside that vain belief that you will achieve something totally different by just doing more of the same.”  

Tony Abbott says he is prepared to consider the idea of a welfare card to determine how recipients spend their money.


However, the government has ruled out quarantining income for everyone who receives welfare payments.

Mr Abbott describes Mr Forrest’s report as bold, ambitious and brave but says some elements, like the increase to income management, are ahead of public opinion.

He says his review challenges Australians to do more to ensure kids are in school and adults are at work.

“What we’ve got to try to ensure is that we do things differently because if we don’t do things differently nothing will change.”

“I mean that old phrase, if you always do what you’ve always done you will always get what you’ve always got, and this idea that we can just keep doing more of the same and expect that we’re going to get dramatically different outcomes is wrong.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says he disagrees with a one-size-fits-all approach but he has welcomed the report.

Mr Shorten says cash management for all Australians won’t work.

“I think a one size fits all approach underestimates people. Income management has been used by Labor in the past in selected circumstances so we are not putting down the shutters for some change,” Mr Shorten said.

“But I think the proposition that all two and a half million people of working age who receive a government payment can’t be trusted to make decisions – that’ll be a bridge too far.”


Welfare management already applies in the Northern Territory, and is being trialled in parts of New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia.

Terror laws could reverse onus of proof

Terror laws could reverse onus of proof

Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne flagged the possibility of an onus of proof reversal on citizens returning from countries in civil war and said the government was “disgusted” with terrorists fighting overseas.


The changes would mean Australians returning from those countries would need to explain what they had been doing.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to detail the changes, but said the government would do everything it reasonably could to stop jihadists returning.

“We do not want people who have been radicalised and militarised coming back to this country,” Mr Abbott told reporters on Friday.

The government estimates about 60 Australians are fighting abroad, and several others have returned.

Mr Pyne said the return of “murderous terrorists” involved in the “atrocities of Syria and Iraq” were a serious threat to security.

He said reversal of the onus of proof would likely come with a “risk” ranking system.

Those who had been “hanging out in country Syria” for several months would need to properly explain themselves.

The Australian Greens say the proposed changes could mean humanitarian workers and journalists would have to prove they are not criminals.

Greens senator Penny Wright said she was concerned the laws could permanently erode human rights.

The government introduced the first tranche of new anti-terrorism laws on July 16 and the second is expected to go to cabinet within weeks.

Arrest warrants have been issued for two Australians fighting for a banned terrorist group in Syria and Iraq.

How games like Minecraft are helping kids with Autism

How games like Minecraft are helping kids with Autism

OK, that may be a slight exaggeration.


But my eight-year-old, at least, is totally obsessed with this online game that lets him create his own world by mining and harvesting different substances and then combining them to build exactly what he wants.

To my eyes Minecraft looks incredibly old – the graphics and sound effects are so simple and the point of the game is so rudimentary – but I think it’s the simplicity that kids find so appealing.

Personally, I’m sick to death of hearing about mobs and endermen, villagers and zombies. But today, I have a new respect for the game.

That’s because Minecraft (and, to be fair, certain other online games) really appeals to children with autism. It’s very visual, it’s creative – though in a logical, structured way – and it also promotes social skills, something that autistic kids struggle with.

Craig Smith, who features in my story, actually took a bunch of his students and made a video where the kids pretended to enter the Minecraft world (in reality, a beach somewhere on the New South Wales coast) and began negotiating their new environment. They had to communicate, explore and work together – and they loved it.

Even better, Minecraft is portable. Autistic kids can carry it with them on a tablet or smartphone and that enevitably draws other “normal” kids to them, helping them to practice interaction with peers.

So for all those times I cursed this game, I take it back. Anything that plays to the strengths of autistic children and helps them integrate is OK by me.

To see how teachers can incorporate Minecraft – and other obsessions that autistic kids latch on to – into their learning environment and enhance their literacy and numeracy, watch my story.

INTERVIEW-Golf-Kaymer would love to partner Langer at Ryder Cup

INTERVIEW-Golf-Kaymer would love to partner Langer at Ryder Cup

Former skippers Colin Montgomerie and Tony Jacklin have already outlined their support for the German veteran while McGinley’s opposite number, Tom Watson, also said last week’s runaway Senior British Open champion “might be worth a pick”.


Langer, who romped to a 13-shot victory at Royal Porthcawl in Wales on Sunday, would become the oldest player in Ryder Cup history if he featured in the team that will meet the United States in Scotland in September.

American Ray Floyd holds that distinction after appearing in the 1993 edition at the age of 51.

“I hope Paul was watching what Bernhard did in the Senior British Open,” Kaymer told Reuters in a telephone interview from Akron, Ohio where he is warming up for next week’s U.S. PGA Championship by competing in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“Shooting 18-under-par for four rounds at a difficult links course like Porthcawl is an outstanding effort under any circumstances whether it is a senior tournament or a regular tour event.

“Don’t forget either what Bernhard did by finishing eighth in this year’s U.S. Masters at Augusta.”

Kaymer, who prompted wild scenes of jubilation when he holed the putt that made sure Europe retained the trophy in Illinois two years ago, said he would love the chance to play alongside his fellow German at Gleneagles in September.

“Bernhard is a special player and it would be great to be able to partner him,” said the twice major winner.

“He has done so much for German golf and for European golf and he would not let the team down if Paul picked him to play against the Americans,” added Kaymer, who won the Players Championship in Florida in May before landing the U.S. Open title in North Carolina a month later.

Langer, who turns 57 on Aug. 27, also won the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh in June and finished in the top-10 in the other three over-50 majors.


Twice former U.S. Masters champion Langer has been a dominant force on the over-50s circuit and achieved a notable double in 2010 when he won back-to-back senior majors in Britain and the U.S.

“Bernhard and I have a good relationship,” said the 29-year-old Kaymer, who is an international brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, official vehicle of the U.S. PGA Championship.

“We regularly exchange text messages and phone calls and he has always been so supportive of me throughout my career,” said Kaymer, who opened with a disappointing seven-over-par 77 in Akron on Thursday.

The calm, phlegmatic German is normally the epitome of cool on the golf course but that all went out of the window at the Medinah Country Club when he leapt around like a schoolboy after holing a six-foot putt to retain the Ryder Cup for Europe.

“That was an unforgettable moment,” said 2010 U.S. PGA champion Kaymer. “What happened at Medinah was huge for me.

“To make something that big happen for yourself, your country and your continent is a huge achievement. If you know you can make those things happen, it doesn’t get any bigger.

“There is no goal in my life where there will be more pressure or more excitement than at Medinah where I had that six-footer,” added Kaymer, who is almost certain to claim one of the nine automatic spots in Europe’s 12-man team at Gleneagles.

“After that experience I never want to miss another Ryder Cup in my career.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Large police contingent heads to MH17 site

Large police contingent heads to MH17 site

The Australian government is increasingly confident it will be only a matter of days before the remaining bodies of MH17 victims and their effects are transported from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.


Its optimism comes after a meeting between Russian, Ukrainian and separatist leaders in the Belarusian capital Minsk and the successful mission of an advance team involving Australian and Dutch police.

Ukrainian deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman wrote on Twitter that within two days militants would allow passage of the bodies through the war torn Donetsk region.

The advance team identified a new, safer but longer route to the site.

This was the route a 14-vehicle convoy of up to 100 Australian and Dutch police and an team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe later took to reach the area in Donestk on Friday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the team would “start working in earnest” to recover further remains and the belongings of the passengers and crew of the Malaysia Airlines plane went down on July 17.

Ms Bishop, who was leaving Ukraine to return to Australia, said refrigerated vans would carry the remains, which would then be transferred to the Netherlands for identification.

“My work is done but the mission goes on,” she said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the advance team had itself recovered some remains.

Australian officials believe as many as 80 bodies are still at the site.

The Boeing 777 is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 people on board including 38 Australians.

Mr Abbott said the Australian Federal Police and Dutch police mission was risky, given the continued fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists in the area.

But the government had taken the best expert advice and Australia’s special envoy Angus Houston was “plugged in” to the international team involved in the mission.

“But let’s not forget 298 innocent people have been murdered, 38 Australians have been murdered,” Mr Abbott said.

“We owe it to our dead to bring them back, we owe it to their families to bring them back.”

The advance team had paused for a moment’s silence at the crash site, almost two weeks to the hour since the plane went down.

Senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE met in Minsk as news came through of the successful advance mission.

A statement following the meeting said the senior representatives had committed to securing safe access by international investigators to the crash site until their work on the spot was completed.

There was also agreement on the release of hostages, improved monitoring of the ceasefire and better control and verification on the border between Ukraine and Russia.

Another meeting will be held next week.