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EARLY START

Attack on Flight 17; Putin Blames Ukraine for Flight 17 Attack; Netherlands in Mourning; Risky Route Over Ukraine; Israeli Troops Invade Gaza

Aired July 18, 2014 - 05:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: In the breaking news this morning, the crisis over the shoot down of Malaysian Airline Flight 17 over Ukraine. The passenger plane crashing with hundreds of people on board. Now investigators are combing the wreckage and searching for clues while Russia and Ukraine point the fingers at each other.

We have live team coverage breaking down the new information that we have learned overnight on this crash, on this disaster. Who shot it down and who was on board.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

LARA BALDESARRA, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Lara Baldesarra in for Christine Romans. It is 31 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: We are going to begin with the search for the people who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Right now, the wreckage, the body parts scattered this morning across miles of eastern Ukraine. The Malaysian Airlines jet blown out of the sky by what officials believe was a Russian made surface-to-air missile. The evidence at this moment does seem to point to pro-Russia separatists as the suspected attackers.

President Obama warning the world is watching as concern grows that this crime scene is being contaminated and perhaps altered by the attackers. It is the pro-Russian separatists who control this crime scene right now.

Our coverage begins this morning with senior international correspondent Nic Robertson who's live this morning in Kiev.

Nic, what's the latest?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, 121 bodies recovered so far, 95 investigators on site moving in 18 vehicles. They say they're hampered by armed separatists, they're hampered by the scale of the debris field.

We also have heard this morning from the Ukrainian prime minister, visibly shaken, using very strong language and calling for international help to bring to justice those responsible. This is what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: We ask all respective governments to participate in this investigation. And to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Well, very strong language there. We also understand there are international monitors, military monitors we should stress here, just a couple of hours drive from the crash scene. They are going to see if they can secure the black boxes. So far, pro-Russian separatists said they -- that they have control over possibly both the flight data recorders on that aircraft, the international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. We'll see if they can recover those black boxes for the Ukrainian government.

At this moment, however, that -- that is unclear. Certainly those same monitors themselves have been held prisoner by various -- these different pro-Russian separatists. It's a hodgepodge of groups there. No unified command and the government here still says that there's no truce there right now. The fighting continues. And those armed separatists hampering the investigation -- John.

BERMAN: Nic, and I have to say you don't normally hear language like that from a world leader. Those bastards, he said. I'm sorry for the language but those are the words he used.

The Ukrainian government does seem to believe that they have the evidence that this attack, the shootdown of MH-17, was carried out by pro-Russian separatists.

ROBERTSON: Yes, the government here has released what they say are recordings of conversations between people they identified as pro- Russian separatists talking to what, again, the Ukrainian government identifies as the separatist Russian handlers.

Now during these phone conversations, the evidence, if you will, becomes clear that these separatists think that they've shot down the Ukrainian military aircraft, then they sent people out to the scene. They discover at the scene there that there are no military -- there's no military debris, there's no weapons in the fields that they find, but civilians on a commercial jet liner.

So this is all on tape that the government here says they recorded. And adding to that, what the government is also saying that in recent days in that area, they have lost two, at least two of their own aircraft. Their army transport aircraft, Antonov 26, and the fighter jet, the Sequoia 25, both shot down in that same area, again, they say by the pro-Russian separatists.

So this is the evidence that the government is putting forward here. We cannot independently verify it. But for them, it's a very strong case, damming evidence, they say, against those pro-Russian separatists -- John.

COOPER: Nic Robertson for us in Kiev. An extremely tense situation this morning to say the least. Thanks, Nic.

BALDESARRA: And we are still waiting to find out the identities of the 283 passengers and the 15 crew members on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. So far there's no word of Americans on the jet.

Now here's how President Obama reacted to the tragedy during his visit to Delaware.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and the passengers, wherever they call home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDESARRA: The president has directed Secretary of State John Kerry and the rest of his National Security Team to reach out to the countries directly impacted by the downing of Flight 17.

Now Kerry, he's released a statement saying, quote, "We are horrified by the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17. The United States government remains prepared to assist with a credible international investigation any way we can. And we will continue to be in touched with all relevant partners as we seek the facts of what happened."

Well, the U.S. joined a host of countries now banning flights over eastern Ukraine. And this morning, we're finding out the nationalities of many of the passengers and of the crew who were on board the jet liner.

More than half of the passengers, 173, they were from the Netherlands. Some of them were believed to be heading to Australia to attend the 20th International AIDS Conference, 44 other people were from Malaysia, 27 people were Australians.

Now so far there's no word of any victims from the United States. However, 20 fatalities do remain unverified.

BERMAN: The Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, claims Ukraine is ultimately responsible for the attack on Flight 17. The Russian president says he has ordered his top military officials to provide all the help needed to shed light on what he calls a criminal act.

President Putin goes on to say, "There is no doubt that the country on whose territory this terrible tragedy happened bears responsibility. This tragedy, he says, would not have happened if there was peace in the country, if military operations had not resumed in the southeast of Ukraine."

U.S. officials have already determined that the Ukrainian military did not have the ability to launch a missile from this pro-Russian region where the attack took place.

Listen to the reaction from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There does seem to be some growing awareness that it probably had to be Russian insurgents. Now how we determine that will require some forensics, but then if there is evidence pointing in that direction, the equipment had to have come from Russia. What more the Russians may or may not have done, we don't know. I read, as I was walking in today to talk with you, the Russian stock market has dropped.

There is a great deal of concern that not only was a civilian plane shot down, but what this means about the continuing conflict in eastern Ukraine and the role that Russia is playing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: The former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton there.

I want to go to London now and bring in Matthew Chance who joins us by the phone.

Matthew, we heard the Russian president Vladimir Putin essentially blamed Ukraine for creating this situation where this attack took place. It took place over a conflict region. The Russian leader blames Ukraine for that conflict. However, he did not say who pulled the trigger that shot the missile that brought this plane down. Ukraine says it has evidence that it was pro-Russian separatists. The U.S. seems to think it's same.

What are you hearing this morning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you're right. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, choosing his words very carefully. The (INAUDIBLE) that Ukraine is ultimately responsible for this tragedy because the damning of the plane took place over Ukrainian territory.

The security situation (INAUDIBLE) Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin blamed the Ukrainian authorities for that (INAUDIBLE) pro-Russian insurgent rebels in the eastern side of the country. He wants that to stop so within that general security situation Vladimir Putin blaming the Ukrainians but stopping short of (INAUDIBLE) increasingly. But it was pro-Russian rebel that had that (INAUDIBLE), airliner and (INAUDIBLE) for the death of all those people, and so carefully choosing his words. (INAUDIBLE) is going to increase dramatically the pressure on Moscow to distant itself from those rebels and (INAUDIBLE), in the words of U.S. administration, de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine to avoid potential new sanctions.

Remember, over the past few days (INAUDIBLE) more ratcheting up of sanctions on Russia (INAUDIBLE) in Ukraine believed to be causing the rebels (INAUDIBLE) --

BERMAN: All right. We don't have a great connection there with Matthew Chance. We're going to move on right now.

Matthew was talking about the international bickering, the finger- pointing that exists right now over the situation in Ukraine and how this flight may have been shot down. But the fact remains that there were 298 people on board that flight, 298 souls, and more than half were from the Netherlands.

We want to bring in now Erin McLaughlin who is live in Amsterdam where there is grieving this morning, where the people there coming to grips with the scope of this tragedy.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The Netherlands is very much a country in mourning of the 280 passengers that were on board that ill-fated Flight MH-17. 173 were Dutch nationals. And today, in Holland, the flags are flying at half mast.

Now I'm here at Schiphol Airport, the very airport that that plane yesterday originated from. And flights are leaving as usual, including that same flight, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17, from Schiphol to Kuala Lumpur. It's expected to take off in the next couple of hours.

Now, meanwhile, the relatives, friends of the victims that were on board the plane are being cared for in a hotel not far from here. They -- officials here in Amsterdam are being very protective of their privacy, their security blanketing that entire hotel. Right now we understand from an airport official that Malaysian Airlines is trying to arrange for a chartered flight from Amsterdam to eastern Ukraine so that some of the relatives can actually see the crash site.

We're trying to reach out to Malaysia Airlines for more information about that but it's very difficult to imagine the kind of shock, the pain, the suffering of the relatives and friends of those victims.

We also have heard from one woman who says that she was supposed to have been on board that flight, but she and her baby simply arrived here at Schiphol Airport too late.

Take a listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm shaking. I don't know what to do. I'm physically, physically sick. I was like -- from (INAUDIBLE), coming to the airport. And the fact that he was just crying. I'm just thinking I feel like I have been given a second chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: You can see there just a mixture of relief and shock. Also expressing his own shock is the Dutch prime minister. He arrived early from Germany here in Holland last night. He gave a press conference in which he called this the worst aviation disaster in Dutch history. Condolences to him has been pouring in from around the world. He's heard from Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain. He's also

heard, we understand, from Russian President Vladimir Putin who has asked him to convey his condolences to the friends and families of the victims -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Erin McLaughlin for us from Amsterdam right now where there's been so much grief. Over half the passengers on MH-17 were Dutch.

BALDESARRA: Yes. And Malaysian Airlines is taking its duties to notify next of kin very seriously. That statement they said they are going to be -- be sending 40 staff members to Amsterdam to help visit with the families and help deal with them.

Well, back to our big story this morning as a passenger jet shot down over Ukraine, there are hundreds dead. A dangerous flight path is now being examined. And we're going to break that completely down. It's coming up for you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDESARRA: Well, there's certainly a lot of questions this morning about that route that was taken by Flight 17. Many airlines, they've been avoiding the air space over eastern Ukraine since the fighting broke out.

Now Indra Petersons is tracking that angle of the story for us.

And you found out something very interesting.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, because there are so many different routes when you take a look at the sky. That any route can take. So there's a lot of questions this morning about why MH-17 went down just 40 miles from the border of Russia, right between that conflict zone at eastern Ukraine and Russia.

So let's talk about where they typically had been flying. They've actually typically been flying much further down to the south. This latest flight path is actually about 200 miles northeast of their typical flight path for MH-17. Now yesterday, they flew a little bit farther to the north due to some thunderstorms. And notice that yesterday itself, they actually went much farther to the north.

So that has been the reason or suggested reason that they did take that different flight path. But what I found very interesting is this flight path was actually farther away from the FAA's restricted area. The FAA restricted area previously included the Crimean Peninsula and the portions of the Black Sea. The new restrictions now do include that region but again where they flew that newest path, that was actually farther away from the restricted path.

Now remember Malaysia Airlines does not have to follow FAA restrictions, but nonetheless you can see many airlines are now following that. Previously there were about 21 planes in the region. Now today you can see just a few are flying in that region. And it looks like there's just about a few Russian planes in that region right now. So still a scary thought that there are planes out there.

BALDESARRA: Absolutely. It's incredible to think that now perhaps all those flight routes in the future will be planned and based on areas of conflict and working around that.

PETERSONS: Let's hope so.

BALDESARRA: Absolutely. Indra, thank you very much.

All right. Well, we will be continuing to follow -- on the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. However, we do follow -- we are following another very major story as Gaza has been invaded. Israeli moving troops in after 10 days of deadly airstrikes. We are live with what is happening right now in Gaza. That's coming up right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDESARRA: Another story that we are keeping track of this morning, Israel has launched a ground invasion into Gaza. The Israeli Army confirming one of its soldiers has already been killed along with nearly a dozen Palestinians. Now tanks, they have been rolling over the northern border of Gaza after 10 days of aerial bombardments against Hamas target.

Karl Penhaul is live from Gaza City this morning.

Karl, we've seen airstrikes in the past. Now we're moving to a ground invasion. What's become the new goal here?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's been now more than 14 hours since the Israelis got boots on the ground on the Gaza Strip. They came across with infantry units and they came across with tanks in darkness hours. That was to say it was proceeded by intense bombardment from air, land and sea.

The reason the Israelis say they are coming across is because they cannot take this war against Hamas only by carrying out airstrikes. They say that need Israeli boots on the ground so that it can destroy rocket launchers that are often concealed. And they say that they also need to destroy tunnels used by the militants to borrow from the Gaza Strip into Israel to try and carry out attacks there.

So that is the reason for this -- ground invasion. We've heard from the Israeli prime minister as well to expect this ground invasion to get bigger, to get broader. But it's the civilian population that's bearing the brunt of this. So far the U.N. says more than 70 percent of the casualties are civilians -- Lara.

BALDESARRA: All right. Karl, ground invasion is very rare in that area. We'll continue to keep our eyes on that.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, it has of course been shut down. And we have a lot of new information that we have learned overnight. I'll be bringing that to you coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDESARRA: Many new details have emerged overnight regarding Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and are continuing to emerge. CNN will have you covered all throughout the day with all of the latest breaking news.

Now as you can see I have lost John Berman here on EARLY START but perhaps he has shown up on "NEW DAY" somewhere.

That's all for me and EARLY START. Let's go to you guys at "NEW DAY."

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Two major breaking stories. The attack on Malaysia Flight 17. The U.S. believes the plane was shot down over rebel-controlled Ukraine. 298 people dead.

The world now on edge. Who shot it down? Ukraine releasing this audiotape. Ukraine says that's Russian separatist admitting to taking down the plane. Vladimir Putin pointing the finger right back, as we learn more about those who were onboard. This morning, how was it taken down?