Germany has called on Russia to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine after a Boeing 777, travelling from Amsterdam Schiphol to Kuala Lumpur, was blown out of the sky at 10,000 metres, by what US officials claim was a Russian-made surface to air missile.
Speaking on Friday, Chancellor Angela Merkel also called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. "What is important now is for an independent investigation to take place as soon as possible," Merkel told reporters.
"For that, a ceasefire is needed, and then it is of course crucial for those responsible to be brought to justice."
She said Russia must play its part in finding a "political solution" to the conflict and added that Moscow bore responsibility for what was happening in Ukraine.
Merkel added there were "many, many indications that the plane was shot down and that is why we must take this very, very seriously".
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has blamed the Ukrainian government for the crash, saying the tragedy would not have happened if it had not escalated the conflict with the separatists, while the Kiev government blamed the pro-Russian rebels for shooting down the plane.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko described the crash of flight MH17 as a "terrorist act".
US vice president Joe Biden, meanwhile, described the plane as being "blown out of the sky".
Vice president of Malaysia Airlines Europe, Huib Gorter, confirmed on Thursday evening at Schiphol Airport that four Germans were on the flight, along initial figures of 173 Dutch, 28 Australians, 44 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Belgians, three Filipinos one Canadian and a New Zealander. There were no survivors.
A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Office confirmed to The Local that there were four Germans among the dead, but declined to give further details.
According to reports in Australia, however, one of the German victims was a 24-year-old woman who was flying to visit her parents in Australia
Germany’s Express newspaper, meanwhile, cited security sources saying two of the German victims were women from North Rhine-Westphalia. One lived in Malaysia and was flying back to her new home.
'Too many interests at stake'
The crash is likely to have severe international consequences, coming on the day that the US and EU increased sanctions against Russia for its ongoing support of rebels in eastern Ukraine.
German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble appealed to Russia to help de-escalate the crisis between the Kiev government and pro-Russian separatists.
“It s crucial that Russia now shows responsibility,” he on Friday on German radio, calling on the Putin government to “finally” contribute to the de-escalation of the war.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was shocked and called for a thorough and independent investigation. Her spokesman said it would be a "tragic escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine," if it was confirmed the plane had been shot down.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also called for an international investigation, adding he was "lost for words" that hundreds of people not involved in the conflict had been killed in such a "terrible way".
"We quickly need an independent international investigation that examines the cause of the catastrophe," he said on Friday.
But Philippe Migault, an expert on Ukraine at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations in Paris, doubts European leaders will turn up the heat on Putin that much.
“European countries will condemn the incident and demand an inquiry as well as an end to fighting in the region, but they won’t go much further,” Migault told The Local.
“I don’t think we will see any major change. There are just too many interests at stake.
"The economic interests between the EU and Russia are just too great. We have seen the USA increase sanctions against Russia, but they have less at stake economically than countries like France and Germany.”
The crash has also affected air traffic.
According to Spiegel Online, the German Air Force is rerouting a transport plane carrying troops to Afghanistan via a different route following the crash.
The A-310 plane was meant to fly over eastern Ukraine to Hindu Kush in Afghanistan on Friday. They are now searching for a more southern route.
Lufthansa and other airlines also responded by changing their flight paths so as to avoid airspace over east Ukraine.
also reported that Germany was sending a expert from the Federal Criminal Police (BKA) to help with the investigation into how the plane was apparently shot down.