A deleted social media post by a separatist militia leader has led to accusations that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are to blame for the Malaysia Airlines crash that has left at least 295 people dead.

Igor Girkin, who also goes by the nom de guerre Strelkov, is reported to have claimed that his forces shot down a plane in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine at 5.50pm (GMT+4), shortly before reports emerged the passenger jet was missing.

“We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured,” he is reported to have said.

“The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez,” he stated on VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook. “We did warn you: do not fly in our skies.”

An official statement from the Ukrainian government said: “The airplane was shot down by the Russian Buk missile system as the liner was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters.”

Girkin’s original post has now been deleted from VKontakte and his subsequent posts appear to deny that the pro-Russian forces within Ukraine have the available weaponry to take down a jet at 10,000m (33,000ft).

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