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EARLY START

Who Shot Down MH17?; Death & Destruction in Gaza

Aired July 21, 2014 - 04:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17? This morning, new evidence mounting against Russian separatists who have refused to hand over the crash scene to investigators.

Overnight, Russian President Vladimir Putin breaks his silence on the controversy as the families of the victims plead for the bodies of their loves ones to be returned.

We have live team coverage on all of the angles of this major, developing story.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Death and destruction in Gaza. Sunday marking the deadliest day yet in the battle as Israel pounds more neighborhoods with bombs.

Overnight, the U.N. declaring great concern over the escalating violence there as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt, attempting to help broker a cease-fire.

We are live on the ground in Gaza with the very latest.

Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. Great to see you today.

A lot going on. It's Monday, July 21st, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

One by one, the innocent victims of Flight MH17 are being removed from the crash site. Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine piling the bodies into refrigerated rail cars. This is triggering international outrage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, he insists overnight that the disaster should somehow unite the international community, not divide it. But is he doing the dividing? That is the key question.

Secretary of State John Kerry calling the handling of the victims "grotesque", slamming what he calls drunken separatists who are controlling the crash site now. Those same separatists now claiming they have recovered the downed jetliner's flight data recorders.

A lot to discuss this morning. I want to bring in our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson live from Donetsk in Ukraine. Ivan, first off -- just give me the latest.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We are hearing intermittent thuds of artillery coming from the north of Donetsk. This is the rebel stronghold city. And officials from the separatist leadership are telling us that they that Ukrainian believe that Ukrainian government tanks and armored personnel carriers are trying to punch through towards the north of the city, in the direction of the railroad station. The mayors, the city mayor's Web site has put out a warning to residents online, saying stay away from the north of the city, from the railroad station area, which is only four or five miles from where I'm standing right now.

In the meantime, the separatist movement here, its credibility getting a blistering attack from one of the world leaders, when the leaders of one of the countries whose citizens died aboard Malaysian Air Flight 17. This coming from the prime minister of Australia who has described the recovery and investigation effort in the crash zone, which is controlled by the separatist fighters as "shambolic".

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY ABBOTT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: There's no doubt that at the moment, the site is under the control of the Russian backed rebels and given the almost certain culpability of the Russian backed rebels in the downing of the aircraft, having those people in control of the site is like leaving criminals in control of a crime scene.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Criminals in control of the crime scene.

Now, the Australian prime minister and other world leaders from countries like Malaysia, the Netherlands whose citizens died aboard that flight, they have been in direct communication with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, publicly urging him to use pressure on the rebels who control this city and the crash site to open the way for investigators and to rush the bodies of the dead to representatives from the various countries so they can identify and repatriate the bodies. The Australian prime minister saying that Vladimir Putin has said the right words, but he has to match those words in deeds.

On Sunday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that this was a tragic event. He urged for international investigators to take control of the crash scene but he also had a warning that various parties should not try to take political advantage from this disaster -- John.

BERMAN: Ivan, it's now nearly four full days since the plane was shot from the sky. And you speak to impartial international observers, the people who investigate these type of events and they say it is simply outrageous at this point that professional investigators have not been allowed access to the site. As you said, the Russian leader Vladimir Putin last night said it should be open to international investigators.

Is there a sense that this is a genuine call that will be heeded and it may open the door for the right kind of investigation to finally happen?

WATSON: Well, you know, the separatists who control this city and again the crash site, they say hey, the investigators are welcome to come here. We have invited them, but they haven't showed up yet and they've accused the Ukrainian government that they're battling of holding back the investigators.

There is a team from the OSCE, the international monitors, who have been allowed daily visits to the crash site. They are accompanied by several Ukrainian civil aviation experts and hundreds of workers from the Ukrainian government emergency ministry. Emergencies ministry have been working at the crash site. So, some access has been provided.

But here is one area where the separatists have not been transparent or forthcoming. It comes down to the black boxes. The flight recording devices, the prime minister of this self-declared independent republic, he spoke to our own Chris Cuomo last night and he said, hey, we have taken some technical objects, as he described it, but we're not experts and we don't know whether or not these are the black boxes.

But at the same time, he's not sharing any images of these technical objects and the OSCE monitors haven't been able to see these possible black boxes. And that's led some countries to openly accuse the separatists of trying to whitewash the crash zone, of trying to stage a cover up. Of course, the Ukrainian government, the U.S. government, and now, you're hearing Australia, directly accusing the separatists themselves of shooting down this plane last Thursday and killing 298 people. Accusations the rebels deny.

BERMAN: So, if you listen to the evidence of the Ukrainian, and increasingly so from U.S. intelligence sources, that does seem to be where they are pointing.

Ivan Watson, our thanks to you, reporting from Donetsk this morning.

ROMANS: All right. Get those bodies out of there -- that's a heart breaking plea from a Dutch mother, a woman torn apart by the death of her 23-year-old son and his girlfriend on Flight 17.

All the victim's family members pleading, pleading with the rebels to allow access to the crash site. They are sickened by the thought of what's being done to the remains of their loved ones. Listen to Drew Ryder of Minnesota trying to stay strong after losing his brother and sister-in-law on Flight 17.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW RYDER, BROTHER OF PLANE CRASH VICTIM: It's difficult to lose loved ones. I'm not kidding you that -- in saying that, you know, we are hurting a lot. But we also feel very confident about the fact that we think they are in a better place. We are going to church and it's going to be tough because we're going to have a lot of people. It's not going to do it now. It's very difficult when it becomes personal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Our coverage of the attack of Flight 17 continues now with Erin McLaughlin live from Amsterdam.

And, Erin, these families from around the world, you know, trying to hold things together here. Even as the bodies of their loved ones, they have no idea whether they are on the train -- refrigerated train cars, in the field and they just see how barbaric the whole situation is on the ground.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine.

I talked to mothers who have lost their children. I have talked to communities who lost entire families. You can see a whole range of emotions. There's anger, outrage, but there's also confusion as well as this intense sense of sorrow and grief.

Yesterday, I spoke to one woman who lost both of her young sons to MH17. And she looked at me and she said, I wish it was me who was on board that plane instead, horrible for a mother to have to think those thoughts.

And the families, yes -- of course, they want the bodies back. Yesterday, I also talked to one woman who was here at the airport. She was laying flowers and signed a condolence book, a makeshift memorial that's growing behind me over that way. She lost her son and his girlfriend to MH17.

And she had this message for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SILEN FREDRIKS, MOTHER OF CRASH VICTIMS: Mr. Putin, take care of my son and my daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who knows where they are. Who knows where the bodies are. Where did they take them?

FREDRIKS: I can't do nothing but wait for their bodies.

MCLAUGHLIN: Do you have any idea where your son's body and his girlfriend?

FREDRIKS: No idea, I don't even know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took it. Maybe it's there. Maybe it's in one piece, maybe 1,000 pieces.

FREDRIKS: No one knows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLAUGHLIN: You can really sense their pain and confusion.

Now, we understand that the Dutch government is going to lead the forensic investigation to help identify the victims and repatriate the bodies. They have the majority of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch. The prime minister yesterday saying that at that point, those forensic investigators had not reached the crash site, they were hoping to arrive today -- Christine.

ROMANS: Just the whole thing so unbelievable. Erin McLaughlin, thank you so much for that.

BERMAN: Now, the flight data recorders obviously could be critical in determining who shot down flight MH17 and the role that Russia may have played in the whole thing. Pro-Russian separatists have claimed now that they have recovered the black boxes with Ukrainian officials, the official government people here charging that the rebels seized them on orders from Russia.

ROMANS: There's a lot of criticism leveled at Malaysian Airlines as well for flying over Ukraine. But top officials at the airlines insist proper protocol was followed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUGH DUNLEAVY, COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: Malaysia Airlines does follow advice from the International Civil Aviation Authority on what are safe corridors to fly and what altitude. We, along with other airlines, have flown that route safely for quite some time. Obviously now that that incident has happened, we will be reassessing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. Let's go to London and bring in our next guest, former British Airlines pilot and aviation consultant, Alastair Rosenschein.

Thank you so much, under these circumstances to be talking about aviation security again, it's almost unbelievable. Unbelievable there's an unsecure crash site, unbelievable that all these families are mourning and really have no idea when they are going to get some kind of evidence where their loved ones are.

Let's talk about the protocol. Let's talk about whether this flight should have been flying over this zone, anyway. There is a war going on in Donetsk. There have been planes that have been downed by the Russian-backed separatists before. Military transport planes, helicopters from the Ukrainian military.

Should this plane have been over that area?

ALASTAIR ROSENSCHEIN, AVIATION CONSULTANT: In retrospect, obviously not. It should not have been. I think it's taking the easy route, the line of least resistance to

rely on the International Civil Aviation Organization to provide information to states as to which routes are safe and which aren't. Each country should make its own decision as to whether or not their civil airlines are safe to fly on those routes. And I know that some airlines in the West, some of the American airlines, British Airways, for example, have been avoiding that route as the troubles there got worse and those aircrafts were being shot down.

So, you know, I'm not convinced that, you know, one can just fall back and say, well, everything is OK because ICAO says the route is open.

If you think about it in other ways, no international organization can tell an individual state it is safe to fly over a country. Take for example airlines in the Middle East. Take Israel, for example. Would an international organization be able to advise Israel whether they could fly over every Middle Eastern country? It would be not possible.

So, you know, it is down to the state. So, I think that in this case, the Malaysian authorities should really be questioning their decision making here.

BERMAN: Alastair, talk to me about the black boxes at this point. Ukrainian separatists, the rebels, are claiming they have them in their possession. What evidence might be on them? At this point, is it the absence of data that could be revealing, the absence of discussion that you are in any kind of danger?

ROSENSCHEIN: Well, here, we are talking the flight data recorder, which records all the various instruments and positions of controls on the aircraft, and the cockpit voice recorder, which records all these sounds and conversations on the flight deck, and also between the flight deck and traffic control. So, what the cockpit voice recorder would presumably record a sound that would be the sound of say, an explosion or missile going off and also what was said on the flight deck at the moments leading up to it.

In a way, it would also rule out technical problems that may have caused this. I mean, we are assuming it was shot down, it most probably was. I think that's what most analysts believe. But until we get the data, we can't say with absolute certainty that was the case. And that's why it's so vital to get these two boxes.

They are not black, they are orange. They are easy to identify. But, you know, if they are in the hands of the rebels, where will they end up? We have heard earlier they turned up in Moscow. That's presumably not the case now.

But how much control does Moscow have over the Russian rebels? Clearly, they are flying Russian flags. They have an allegiance with Russia. But I'm not sure it's as clear cut as people make out.

BERMAN: Well, we'll see. We'll see if Vladimir Putin can step in and perhaps get those devices in the hands of impartial international investigators right now. Alastair Rosenschein, thanks so much for being with us.

ROSENSCHEIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. We are following the latest developments on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, all morning long.

But, first, the deadliest day yet in Gaza. Israel increasing its airstrikes as more troops move in. Americans are among those killed. We are live with what's new there overnight right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Now to our other top story this morning: the deadliest day yet in Gaza. Thirteen Israeli soldiers and as many as 96 Palestinians reportedly killed on Sunday. Two of the casualties on the Israeli side are Americans. Max Steinberg, a native of San Fernando Valley, California, and Sean Carmeli of South Padre Island, Texas.

Secretary of State Kerry calling for a cease-fire as soon as possible. But Israel is expanding its offensive. And despite the deaths of innocent Palestinians, Prime Minister Netanyahu is showing no sign of backing down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I'm very sad. When I see that, I'm very sad. We are sad for every civilian casualty. They are not intended. This is the difference between us. The Hamas targets civilians and deliberately hides behind civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Let's bring in Karl Penhaul live in Gaza with the latest developments.

And when you listen to both sides, you hear bitterness, entrenched bitterness, and you hear -- you really hear a crescendo in this conflict, not a de-escalation.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You hear that crescendo and you also see that crescendo, Christine. We saw that building up over the weekend. And we've also seen it build up this morning. Over my shoulder there, that's eastern Gaza. We have seen the Israeli military there absolutely pounding that area.

But on a point of order, if you like, what we can't really overstate enough is that the majority of the casualties on the Israeli side have been military personnel.

The majority of deaths and wounded are now running at more than 500 Palestinians dead, more than 3,000 wounded. Now, according to the United Nations, between 70 percent and 80 percent of those are civilians, noncombatants, people that clearly should be protected by the rules of war.

And we saw civilians fleeing on mass from eastern Gaza yesterday. People clinging to life in the face of an intense Israeli bombardment overnight and through the morning hours. They were getting out on foot. Old ladies were pushed down on the streets in wheelchairs. Families were loaded on donkey carts. They were trying to get out any way they could.

This morning, no sign this violence is abating, and overnight, we heard a statement from the Al Qassam brigade, that's Hamas' military wing, that they had captured an Israeli soldier. Now, Hamas if this claim is true, will be looking to use that soldier as a bargaining chip, both in political and military terms. So far, no statement from the Israeli military to confirm if those claims are, in fact, true. The Israeli military says it is looking into this.

Also reports this morning from both the Israelis and from Hamas that once again, Hamas commandos have managed to infiltrate on Israel territory and staged some kind of combat with Israeli forces there, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Karl Penhaul for us live this morning.

And, of course, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, is on his way to Egypt to try to, you know, see if the U.S. can help broker some sort of cease-fire.

BERMAN: Yes. But between who and whom there? The problem is Hamas won't negotiate with Egypt or in Egypt. So there may not be all the sides needed to reach some kind of peace there.

Twenty-one minutes after the hour.

Deadly wildfires burning out of control right now in Washington. Nearly 1 million acres torched, more than 100 homes destroys. We're going to talk about the scene on the ground there, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERAMAN: Happening now: more than 20 wildfires burning across the Pacific Northwest. Nearly a million acres in Oregon and Washington state have burned. More than 150 homes lost in one Washington county. One person did die trying to save his home from the flames. Officials say some 35 hot shot crews are on the fire lines right now. They may get a break from the weather with cooler temperatures and lighter winds in the forecast.

That's some good news.

ROMANS: Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning.

Fears of tension in Gaza and developments in the Malaysian Airlines disaster putting a damper on stocks around the globe. European shares down this morning. They've been open for just a little over an hour and a half. Asian shares also ending the day mostly lower.

Look at the U.S. stock futures, they are also pointing lower right now. You know, historically, though, shares have bounced back after global

disasters have sparked big selloffs. We are seeing evidence of that now. The Dow has already gained back almost all of the ground lost after the flight was down on Thursday.

Disasters like this one cause short term uncertainty, but investors usually don't see a long term economic impact. And we go out sort of through the course of history, it's short term. It's the traders short term who tend to react to things like what's happening in Russia and Ukraine, what's happening in the Middle East. But long term investors tend to weather it well.

BERMAN: Well, let's sit tight and let's hope things improve.

ROMANS: That's right.

BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour. New developments this morning in the investigation of that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. Chaos, controversy at the crash site. What Russian President Vladimir Putin said overnight and why families of those on board are now so outraged. Live team coverage, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)