CANBERRA, Australia — Australia's prime minister said Thursday that those responsible for shooting down the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine will face justice, as his nation marked a day of mourning for the 38 Australian citizens and residents who died in the crash.
The commemorations were centered on St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, capital of Victoria state where 16 of the victims lived.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the multi-faith service that hundreds of Australian police and military personnel had been working around the clock to retrieve human remains and belongings from the war zone where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashed on July 17 with 298 people aboard.
"There will be a time to judge the guilty, but today we honor the dead and we grieve with the living," Abbott said.
"We do rededicate ourselves today to supporting the bereaved, to obtaining justice for the dead and for their families, and to working for a better world," he added.
Flags flew at half-mast and church bells chimed around Australia in honor of the dead.
The West has accused Russia of most likely providing Ukrainian insurgents with surface-to-air missiles that may have been used to shoot down the Boeing 777 over rebel-held territory.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of The Netherlands, whose nationals made up more than half of the victims, said Wednesday that the search involving Dutch and Australian police for victims' remains is being halted because fighting in the area of the crash site makes it too dangerous to continue.
Australia sponsored a United Nations Security Council Resolution that demanded that separatists allow the dead to be retrieved and international investigators free access to the crash site.
Australia's first priority is retrieving its dead, followed by establishing who shot the Boeing 777 down and bringing the culprits before the courts.
"We cannot bring them back, but we will bring them home, as far as we humanly can," Abbott said.