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Rebels Surrender Flight 17 Black Boxes; Gaza Violence: Chance for Peace?; Kerry Hoping for Ceasefire

Aired July 22, 2014 - 04:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Breaking news this morning, major developments: Pro-Russian rebels handing over MH17 black boxes and the bodies of the victims onboard. But as investigators move on to the scene, what evidence will they find? And will it lead them directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin?

We are live with team reporters covering every angle of this big developing story.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Our other big story this morning. The death toll rises sharply in Gaza. More airstrikes, more ground assaults killing civilians. Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry hoping to have a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza. We are live in Gaza with the latest on the ground.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's Tuesday, July 22nd, 4:00 a.m. in the East.

And we do begin with pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine finally turning over the data recorders from the wreckage of Flight 17. This is a critical in an investigation that had been stonewalled for days.

Still, key questions do remain. Including, who exactly fired the missile that blew the Boeing 777 out of the sky? Was it pro-Russian rebels? Were Russians themselves on the scene?

President Obama still not satisfied investigators are getting access they need to the crash site.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation. They have repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage. As investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air. The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site.

All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide? (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Meanwhile, could it be that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to distance himself now from those rebels? Listen to his ambassador to the United Nations trying to suggest that perhaps the downing of Flight 17 was nothing more than a mistake.


VITALY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: According to them, the people from the east were seeing that they shot down a military jet. So, if there was -- if they shot down a military, there was confusion. If there was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.


BERMAN: Well, the Kremlin keeps up its spin campaign, the fighting keeps raging all around the Flight 17 wreckage.

I want to bring in Ivan Watson now live from Donetsk.

Ivan, first off, let's just get the latest, the updates. The train carrying the victims, when will that arrive in Kharkiv? What's the status of the crash site itself? And what's the status of the fighting around where you are standing right now?


The train with the precious cargo is expected to arrive in approximately two hours. It is crossing front lines from rebel-held territory such as the city of Donetsk that I'm in right now, into Ukrainian government controlled territory, and crossing active front lines because there was shelling overnight that residents here heard and throughout the day on Monday, we heard the constant rumble of artillery hitting the northern outskirts of the city from the directions of Ukrainian military positions. And we saw in what is largely empty city here, some of the residents who are left here in Donetsk. Some of them frightened and clearly running away with their possessions, with their children, with their pets from the direction of that artillery, some of which hit residential neighborhoods of this city and according to city officials killed at least five civilians.

So, that train navigating some pretty treacherous and potentially dangerous territory on its way to Kharkiv where it's been expected to be flown via a Dutch military cargo flight to Amsterdam, the origin point of the doomed Flight MH17 where the bodies will then be repatriated to their homes and families -- John.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, as for the investigation itself, the black boxes, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, turned over in this elaborate ceremony from the leader of the pro-Russian rebels to representatives from the Malaysian government.

WATSON: That's right, because Malaysia had more than 40 victims aboard the plane, and Malaysian delegation here received those black boxes.

The self-declared prime minister of this separatist region, he gave a speech, again, denying the rebels had anything to do with bringing down the Malaysian airliner and vowing also to cooperate with the international investigation.

What is worth noting is that the orange boxes, these devices that were handed over have clearly marked on the side of them, flight recorders and this same prime minister, as recently as Sunday night was telling CNN's own Chris Cuomo, that the rebels had secured several technical objects, but they weren't expert enough to know whether or not these were these flight recorders or black boxes as they are commonly known.

It's clearly marked on the side of the devices, as you can see in the videos, which will be another blow to the credibility of the rebels who vow that they've been trying to cooperate with everybody, but they were clearly holding this back from international investigators and monitors for some four days after the crash.

BERMAN: You know, curious would be a nice way to put it. Damming might be a more honest way.

Ivan Watson live in Donetsk this morning for us -- thanks so much, Ivan.

ROMANS: Let's get more now on those trains carrying the remains of the Flight 17 victims. They finally began pulling out of Donetsk last night, as Ivan reported. They should arrive in the Ukrainian controlled city of Kharkiv within the next couple hours. Then, the 282 bodies will be flown to the Netherlands.

For families who lost loved ones, the pain and anger is unrelenting.


RONALD SCHANSMAN, GRANDSON KILLED ON FLIGHT 17: I am very angry about the whole situation. I'm not only angry with the rebellion group (ph), but also this Ukraine government who had been too weak not to be able to silence the rebellion. I hope President Obama finds a way to punish the responsible people for this hideous act.


ROMANS: Punish the responsible people.

Erin McLaughlin live from Amsterdam this morning.

Before there could be punishment, they just need to have their loved ones back.


Just to give you a sense of where I am, I'm right outside Schiphol's International Airport, just meters away from where victims of MH17 checked in. The makeshift memorial is growing by the hour. People stopping here

to lay flowers, children have left drawings and toys. There's a condolence book people have been lining up to sign over the past few days.

They are also leaving notes, one of which read, our hearts go out to those who yearn for their loved one who died so tragically, we share your deep anguish and despair.

Now, earlier, I spoke to a Calehr family, they lost two boys to MH17 and their mother and grandmother tell me that the family is struggling to come to terms with this tragedy.


YASMINE CALEHR, VICTIMS' GRANDMOTHER: Everybody is crying. Everybody is losing something that belonged to them. But, we feel like we have lost ourselves as well. Why didn't they take my life? They still young. They still have a future. Why the children? Why not me?


MCLAUGHLIN: So many families grieving here in the Netherlands. The prime minister saying it's the country's number one priority to identify the victims and repatriate their bodies. We understand that those bodies are making their way to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, expected to arrive at 6:08 Eastern. From there, they will be loaded on to coffins and unto planes and brought here to the Netherlands where they will begin the identification process so that they can return the bodies to their families and the families can bury their loved ones with dignity and respect.

ROMANS: That's what they deserve, no question. Just an outrageous -- outrageous episode and certainly heartbreaking for all those families.

Erin, thank you.

BERMAN: It's one of the question we are facing this morning, what exactly is Russian President Vladimir Putin doing? He's backing the resolution to bring the victims home and allowing investigators complete access to the crash scene.

But the propaganda machine inside Russia continues to blames the West and Ukraine. Listen to Sarah Firth, the latest journalist from the show, Russia Today, the network Russia Today, to publicly resign.


SARAH FIRTH, FORMER RUSSIA TODAY JOURNALIST: RT style guide rule one on a story like this is absolutely not Russia's fault, it's Ukraine's fault, or whatever country we are trying to fight against. At that point, you really, really feel the sense that there's no adequate questioning.


BERMAN: Let's bring in Diana Magnay live from Moscow where the Russian leader is expected to speak publicly today.

And, Diana, it is interesting. He seems to be giving -- he doesn't publicly deny, outright said it wasn't pro-Russian rebels that have done this, yet he hasn't admitted it, either.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the defense ministry has come out with evidence that they say raises questions over Kiev's role and they have refuted evidence that the U.S. has put forward.

So, they say that these audio intercepts that the U.S. has put out there with separatists and Russian intelligence officer discussing, the Russians say that those are fake. They say the video of a BUK missile launcher going back to Russia the day after the attack was shot days before, and they have presented evidence which they say they have gathered which shows, first of all a Ukrainian fighter jet flying very close to the Malaysian airliner at the time of the incident.

And secondly, satellite images of the position of the BUK missile launches which they say belong to the Ukrainian military moving around the conflict zone at the time and days before the attack.

So, they said to Kiev, what's this? You know, why are we the ones being blamed when all these evidence that points to you? And, frankly, the intelligence picture from both sides is still sketchy and doesn't add up to one particularly view.

You know, the Russian position and the position of the people who watched Russian state media is that Kiev is not to be trusted. The pro-Russian separatists in the east are fighting a legitimate war on behalf of the people in the east who feel more closely affiliated with Russia than not.

It is very hard to imagine the Russian president backing down from that position and changing his story. He is extremely popular right now. The Crimea annexation has seen his popularity soar. And it's just not the situation where he's not going to back down and say, hey, sorry, maybe we are culpable.

But it is the pressure behind the scenes that he can bring to bear on the separatists that is what the U.S. and the West in the form of sanctions, also trying to bring to bat, to massage the situation, so that (a), we get answers on the plane crash, and secondly, the conflict in that country can be resolved, John.

BERMAN: And maybe he is beginning to apply some of that pressure, since the flight data recorders have been turned over and the bodies of the victims now on their way to a more mutual setting. The Dutch will take control of them in Kharkiv, hopefully within two hours from now.

Diana Magnay, live in Moscow for us, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Our coverage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 continues all morning, with all the latest breaking news. But, first, Secretary of State John Kerry trying to broker a cease-

fire between Hamas and Israel, as the death toll skyrockets in Gaza. Is there any chance, any room at all for peace?

We're live, next.


ROMANS: To the Middle East now and the bloody struggle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nearly 600 Palestinians now, many of them civilians, have already been killed, along with 29 Israelis. Israeli fighter planes relentlessly bombing Gaza City overnight.

Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo desperately trying to convince Hamas fighters to put down their weapons and accept an Egyptian a cease-fire proposal.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Israel has accepted that cease-fire proposal. So, only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence.


ROMANS: Karl Penhaul now live from Gaza with the latest developments.

And at issue here really, Hamas does not have much trust or respect for leadership in Cairo.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does not, Christine, because President Sisi, General Sisi, the Egyptian president really has a fight on his hands in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood. And Hamas is, of course, a branch of that. And, of course, no love lost at all between the United States and Hamas. The United States lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Hamas believes that the United States supports Israel rather than taking a neutral position.

So, we're going to have to see what happens in political terms. Also, if you look at what's happening on the battlefield, one would have to question, why would a cease-fire be a good idea right now? Because when Israel started its ground incursion, the stated aims there would have shot down the tunnels that militants were using to borrow into Israeli territory to launch attacks there, and also, to shut down Hamas missile launchers, their rocket launchers that some of them again buried under ground.

As the days have gone on, Israel has not yet achieved that aim. We've seen Hamas militants continue to launch raids into Israel proper, inflicting casualties on Israeli forces there. In about 20 minutes ago, we saw a barrage of militant rockets flying out toward Israel, about four of them from a single launch site.

And then, if you look on the Hamas side, in guerilla warfare terms, Hamas is giving a good account of itself. It has taken a heavy toll on the Israeli military. Right now, we know from the Israeli military, that 27 Israeli soldiers have died in this fight so far. That is more than double the number of Israeli soldiers killed during the confrontation of 2008, 2009.

Hamas is still very much in this fight. But as they talk there in Cairo, here on the ground in Gaza -- well, again, it's been a morning of pounding artillery we've heard at naval gun boats in action just off Gaza's coast. We've seen air strikes and heavy artillery pounding positions across in eastern Gaza as well, and as you say, civilians continue to pay a heavy toll.

Now, according to Palestinian health ministry, around 600 Palestinians now dead. More than 3,500 wounded. The United Nations says that 70 percent of those are civilians, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Karl Penhaul for us this morning in Gaza -- thank you, Karl.

BERMAN: Some other news overseas this morning. Blood spilling in Libya, 47 people killed in the last week, with 120 others wounded. Rival militia's fighting for control of the international airport in the capital city, Tripoli. This is the worst in three years.

ROMANS: Authorities in South Korea say DNA matches the body of a fugitive billionaire who owns the ferry that sank back in April. Yoo Byung-eun disappeared after the ferry disaster in which 292 people onboard were killed, many of them high school students. His body was found last month. He was wanted for questioning in connection with alleged financial irregularities the prosecutors say could have contributed to the ferry tragedy.

BERMAN: Showdown at the border, Texas sending 1,000 troops to the scene as Congress gridlocks over what to do with thousands of children crossing into this country illegally. What's happening today? That's coming up next.


ROMANS: All right. Russian President Vladimir Putin is publicly declaring his support for a U.N. resolution calling for a full investigation into the downing of Flight 17. But Russian media continues to blame Ukraine and the West for this attack. The world will be watching when Putin delivers a speech later today.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the victims are being taken by train from Donetsk to the Ukrainian controlled city of Kharkiv. From there, they'll be flown to the Netherlands before being returned to their loved ones.

BERMAN: Calling out the guards, Texas Governor Rick Perry ordering up as many as 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to help with the immigration overload, along the border with Mexico. The governor says the price of inaction by the federal government is just too high.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor. We are too good a country for that to occur.


BERMAN: Now, the administration says the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border dropped by about half from June to July.

In the meantime, the chances of a bipartisan deal in Congress to address this crisis, they appear to be fading fast, with just two weeks left until lawmakers go on vacation, going home for their August recess.

ROMANS: It's multibillion dollar business for those traffickers, by the way. It's thousands of dollars they pay to get those kids over the border.

All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning. Good day for stocks around the globe. So far, European shares are moving higher. Asian shares are up as well. U.S. futures pointing higher at the moment.

Rebel leaders handing over two black boxes and hope for a cease-fire in Gaza that's easing investor concerns, at least at the moment. And now, the focus shifts to a meeting in the European Union.

Leaders could decide to put more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, with expanded economic sanctions. That means expanding the list of people and companies that are having their assets frozen.

The real question is, how far is Europe willing to go and hurting its own economy to hit Russia? Consider this, the French have a deal to sell assault ships to Russia over a billion dollars. They're going to have to decide if they want to sacrifice some of those exports.

Europe gets a lot of its gas and energy from Russia. Any interference with that could derail a fragile economy there. So, there's very big question and interdependence between Europe and Russia that's pretty unprecedented, making this all very, very difficult. Has the last week been a game changer for those finance ministers in the European Union? That's what we need to see.

ROMANS: We'll see. Up until this point, Europeans are not willing to sacrifice much to forge peace in Ukraine.

Twenty-five minutes after the hour. Breaking this morning: the pro- Russian rebels stepping aside and handing over the black boxes. But will investigators find any evidence at the crash scene of MH17 that hasn't been tampered with?

We'll have live team coverage after the break.