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For the first time, an international team of investigators on Thursday reached the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that was downed over eastern Ukraine two weeks ago with 298 people aboard.

The group included monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and four forensic experts from Australia and the Netherlands, which had the largest number of citizens among the victims.

Team members wearing flak vests and OSCE armbands stopped beside the road next to a large chunk of airplane debris and took a moment of silence for the victims, the OSCE reported on Twitter.

The OSCE also said that the team, which was unable to reach the site on Wednesday, used a new route to reach the location, which is largely under the control of Russian-backed separatists.

Envoys from Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE met Thursday in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, and agreed to keep open the access route that was used on Thursday, despite fighting in the vicinity between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops, Reuters reports.

So far, 227 of the 298 bodies have been found and taken back to the Netherlands for identification, according to DutchNews.nl. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Thursday that "up to 80 bodies" still remain at the site, the British newspaper The Telegraph reports.

Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the OSCE group, said the international team has the authority to retrieve the remaining bodies as well as personal belongings.

He told CNN that the team can "finally give those remains that have been lying here for two weeks the proper care and respect that they deserve."

Separatist groups had organized local workers to retrieve many of the bodies, which were placed on refrigerated rail cars and eventually flown to Amsterdam.

Bociurkiw also said fighting was continuing Thursday as close as 6 miles from the site.

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A delegation from Russia's state aviation body said Thursday it also hoped to visit the site, an agency spokesman said. Sergei Izvolsky told the Associated Press that a delegation of Russian specialists from Rosaviatsiya was due in Kiev Thursday to participate in the investigation.

The U.S. and Ukrainian governments say the Boeing 777 was shot down July 17 by a surface-to-air missile fired from an area controlled by the separatists who have been fighting the Ukrainian government.

The rebels deny shooting down the plane; Russia denies providing the Buk missile launcher and says the Ukrainian military may have shot the plane down.

Contributing: Associated Press

Follow Doug Stanglin on Twitter @dstanglin

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