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Pope Prays for Malaysia Airline Crash Victims

AP Photo/Joshua Paul
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Francis “renews heartfelt appeal to all parties in conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue.”

Pope Francis has offered prayers for the tragedy of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft downed in east Ukraine, the Vatican reported today.

“He raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives,” said Vatican Information Service.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, crashed Thursday with 298 people on board. American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought down the aircraft, but it was not yet clear who fired it, Associated Press reported.

The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels they are fighting and the Russia government that Ukraine accuses of supporting the rebels all denied shooting the plane down. Moscow also denies backing the rebels.

After holding an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council called for "a full, thorough and independent international investigation" into the downing of the plane.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Friday for a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and urged the two sides to hold peace talks as soon as possible. A day earlier, Putin had blamed Ukraine for the crash, saying Kiev was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. But he did not accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and did not address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released a video purporting to show a truck carrying the Buk missile launcher it said was used to fire on the plane with one of its four missiles apparently missing. The ministry said the footage was filmed by a police surveillance squad at dawn Friday as the truck was heading to the city of Krasnodon toward the Russian border.

There was no way to independently verify the video.

International passengers from all walks of life, from a prominent AIDS researcher and soccer fans to a nun and a florist, were aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The Boeing 777 was carrying 298 people when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday in eastern Ukraine, sending shockwaves around the world from Malaysia to the Netherlands.

A Malaysia Airlines vice president, Huib Gorter, said 189 of the passengers were Dutch. There were also 29 Malaysians, 28 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine from the United Kingdom, four each from Germany and Belgium, three from the Philippines, one each from Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong, according to the airline and officials in Australia and Hong Kong. Two passengers’ nationalities remained to be confirmed.

For one Australian family, the Ukraine crash represented an almost unbelievable double tragedy.

Kaylene Mann’s brother Rod Burrows and sister-in-law Mary Burrows were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 when it vanished in March. On Friday, Mann found out that her stepdaughter, Maree Rizk, was killed on Flight 17.

"It’s just brought everyone, everything back," said Greg Burrows, Mann’s brother. "It’s just … ripped our guts again."

Several passengers were traveling to Melbourne, Australia, for the 20th International AIDS conference, which was starting Sunday.

Students at Sydney Catholic school Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart gathered Friday for a special prayer meeting after it was confirmed that Sister Philomene Tiernan, a 77-year-old teacher, was killed.

"We’re absolutely devastated. For me, she’s been a great mentor and she’s also a personal friend," school principal Hilary Johnston-Croke said, her voice breaking with emotion.

The area where the plane went down has seen heavy fighting between government troops and pro-Russia separatists, and rebels had bragged about shooting down two Ukrainian military jets Wednesday in the region.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said the plane was flying at about 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) when it was hit by a missile from a Buk launcher, which can fire up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet). Malaysia’s prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down.