Ceremony Held for Crash Victims; Ukr. to Accept Russian Findings

An official ceremony was held Wednesday evening at the Israel Air Force base in Lod in memory of those killed in the Russian plane crash disaster over the Black Sea last Thursday.

Seventy-eight people, including at least 50 Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union, died when the plane exploded in mid-air en route from Tel Aviv to Siberia and crashed into the Black Sea.

A military plane landed in Israel returned to Israel carrying the bodies of seven crash victims and the military delegation that was dispatched to the crash site.

A civilian plane carrying families of the victims landed Wednesday afternoon at Ben Gurion Airport and another plane will land later in the evening. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres who participated in the ceremony said that Israel would open a thorough investigation of the causes of the disaster. Peres also expressed thanks to the Russian government on its assistance in the recovery efforts at the crash site.

Earlier Wednesday, remarking that "bigger mistakes have been made," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said he would accept Russian findings in the investigation of the airliner crash ollowing increasing speculation that a Ukrainian missile accidentally shot down the plane.

The investigation of last Thursday's crash is still going on, but Russian experts said on Tuesday they had found what appeared to be missile parts among the wreckage of the Tu-154 airliner.

"If our joint working group with Russia adopts a joint agreement - I will agree with it," Kuchma told reporters. "We should not make a tragedy out of matters if it was a mistake. Bigger mistakes have been made."

In an interview with Ha'aretz, Russia's deputy national security council secretary, Vladimir Putakov, affirmed that missile parts were found in the vicinity of the plane. But, he said, the final findings will be reached only after the parts are checked in Moscow.

According to Putakov, it is now clear that the plane went down after being hit externally by explosive material rather than internally, and that the investigative committee believes that a missile hit the plane. However, he refused to explicitly blame the Ukraine.

Putakov, who was appointed to head the national Russian investigative committee said that the search in the Black Sea would continue for at least another month. Russia is leading the crash investigation but has accepted help from Ukrainian experts.

Ukraine's military has consistently denied that one of itsmissiles went astray during exercises last week. RussianPresident Vladimir Putin had said he was unhappy with theinformation Ukraine had given about the live missile firing.

Lieutenant-General Volodymyr Tkachyov, the man in charge of sending volleys of live missiles over the Black Sea last week, flew to the Russian resort of Sochi on Wednesday to help Russian investigators sifting through wreckage hauled from the sea.

Tkachyov, backed by Ukrainian Defence Minister OleksanderKuzmuk, said Monday that technical data from the launches showed an S200 anti-aircraft missile fired at the time the plane exploded had landed well short of the plane's crash site.

Kuzmuk, who told parliament in Kiev on Tuesday his troopswere not to blame, was keeping a low profile Wednesday. His press secretary told Reuters he was not attending a regular cabinet meeting but gave no reason.

If Ukraine's armed forces are found to have caused the crash it would be the second time in 18 months that they had lost control of a live missile.

In 1999, four people were killed in their homes in the town of Brovary when a Tochka-U missile ploughed into their apartment block. The Defence Ministry denied responsibility for days, until rescue workers found remnants of the missile among the rubble. Kuzmuk banned live missile firing for a time after that.

Family members of those killed in the air tragedy were requested to identify personal articles belonging to their relatives. Some were allowed to keep the personal items.