The U.S. and Ukrainian governments say the Boeing 777 was brought down July 17 by a Russian-made missile fired by eastern Ukraine's pro-Moscow separatists. The separatists deny it; Russia denies providing the Buk missile launcher and says the Ukrainian military may have shot the plane down.
After the investigative team's failure to reach the site on Wednesday, the United Nations called on both sides in Ukraine's grinding civil conflict to cease hostilities in the area.
"The families of the victims of this horrific tragedy deserve closure and the world demands answers. International teams must be allowed to conduct their work," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
In their latest attempt to get to the wreckage zone, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe left in two vehicles from the rebel-held city of Donetsk but got only as far as the city's outskirts.
The observers talked with rebels and turned back after being "warned of gunfire on the route and in the surrounding areas," the Dutch said in a statement.
Recent offensives by the Ukrainian army have enabled it to take back swaths of territory from the rebels. But the fighting has edged ever closer to the crash zone.
"We are still waiting and it is a miserable process," said Jasmine Calehr, the grandmother of two Dutch brothers who died in the crash.
Despite her mounting frustration, Calehr said she did not want investigators to go unless it was safe.
"Other people are not supposed to risk their lives," she said. "But that there is nobody strong enough to put pressure on a bunch of rebels is very painful."
Ukraine's U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev said in New York that Ukrainian forces have adhered to President Petro Poroshenko's order not to conduct operations within a 40-kilometer (24-mile) radius of the crash site. He accused the rebel side of bombing the site.
Sergeyev said Ukrainian forces are trying to "liberate the villages and the cities around this site and to give the possibility to international experts to come in."
Of the 298 who died, 194 were Dutch citizens, and Ukraine has asked for their government's help in investigating the crash. Thirty-seven were from Australia. A total of 227 coffins have been flown to the Netherlands for identification and investigation.
With the debris field left unsecured over the past two weeks, international observers say wreckage has been cut, moved or otherwise tampered with.
Ukrainian government security spokesman Andriy Lysenko added to security concerns Wednesday by accusing the separatists of mining the approaches to the area. Even if rebels leave, he said, it will take time to remove the mines and make the area safe for investigators.
Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine's security services revealed what he said was fresh satellite imagery proving Russia had created a major cross-border corridor for the delivery of military equipment to the rebels.
Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said other photographs showed burn marks from rockets fired at Ukrainian troops from a position two kilometers inside Russian territory.
Associated Press writers Mike Corder in the Hague, Netherlands, David McHugh and Peter Leonard in Kiev, Ukraine, and Mstyslav Chernov in Donetsk, Ukraine, contributed to this report.