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SYDNEY (Reuters) - A joint Australian-Dutch probe team will renew efforts on Monday to gain access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine, Australian Federal Police said, after fierce fighting kept them away the previous day.
Evidence could be lost if fighting continued, said Deputy Commissioner of National Security Andrew Colvin, and the chances of finding the remains of all 298 dead grew slimmer as time passed.
An assessment would be made early on Monday Ukraine time of whether it was safe for the 49-strong team to approach the site, Colvin told reporters.
"The fighting intensified overnight. Whether the intensification diminishes over coming days and creates a more permissive environment, it may be as early as today that we say that fighting has diminished enough to go back in."
Clashes overnight between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels killed at least 13 people.
However, Colvin acknowledged that it could be some time before the team gained access to the crash site.
"There remains a possibility that we may not get there in the near future," he said. "I don't want to consider the fact that we may never get to that site."
Ukraine said on Sunday it was trying to dislodge the rebels, but denied it was fighting near the crash site, saying the separatists had put the monitors off by falsely claiming the army was operating nearby.
The unarmed Australian and Dutch team of police investigators, guided by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has already made a short visit to the site, needed to be assured of a sizeable window of time at the site to complete the probe, Colvin said.
"We don't want to put our officers in danger for the sake of a brief look at the site," he said. "We've had a look at the site already... the next stage of this is to get in and start the examination."
Reporting by Jane Wardell; Editing by Clarence Fernandez