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Who Shot Down MH17?; Rebels Surrender Flight 17 Black Boxes; Train Carrying MH17 Bodies Reaches Kharkiv; Gaza Violence: Chance for Peace?

Aired July 22, 2014 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Developing this morning, the possibility of more sanctions against Russia. European Union leaders meeting today. They could decide to put more pressure on Russian President Putin with expanded economic sanctions against Russia. That means widening its list of people and companies under travel bans and asset freezes.

The real question, how far is Europe willing to go if it has to hurt its own economy to hurt Russia? The French for example, they've got a pending deal here to sell assault ships to Russia for over $1 billion. They're going to have to decide if they want blowback from that, sacrificing some of their own exports. It's really a tricky position to be in.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ROMANS: Our breaking news this morning: international investigators trying to figure out who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Pro- Russian rebels handing over now -- handing over the plane's black boxes, and now, handing over the bodies of the victims onboard. But as investigators move on to the scene, what evidence will they find? And will it lead them to Russian President Vladimir Putin?

We're live with a team of reporters covering every angle of this big developing story this morning.

BERMAN: And our big story, the death toll rising rapidly in Gaza. More airstrikes, the ground assault continues. Civilians caught in the middle. Israeli soldiers dead as well.

Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping to broker a cease- fire between Israel and Hamas. Is there any chance of that?

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

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

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It's Tuesday, July 22nd, 5:00 a.m. in the East. We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and our viewers from around the world. Up first, pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine finally turning over

the data recorders from the wreckage of Flight 17. This is a critical development in an investigation that has been stonewalled for days. But big questions remain, including, who fired the missile that blew the Boeing 777 out of the sky?

President Obama is still not satisfied investigators are getting the 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?


ROMANS: Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be trying to distance himself from the rebels. Listen to his ambassador to the U.N. trying to insist 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.


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

I want to bring back in Ivan Watson, live from Donetsk.

And, you know, Ivan, you've been reporting to us that there are people who have been putting their families on trains to get out of the region because they are still in an active war zone. What are you seeing now?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. On Monday, we saw dramatic and emotional scenes as residents of this separatist held city were putting their children, their wives on a train that was headed to Moscow and the sound of artillery was rumbling in the not too far away as they were doing this. So, there were tears and fear as well with at least five people reported killed here in Donetsk as a result of this -- what are clearly artillery strikes hitting residential neighborhoods here apparently from the direction of Ukraine military units in the north of the city where the fighting, again, reportedly is raging today. Donetsk is located an hour to hour and a half drive away from the

wheat fields where flight MH17 went down with 298 people on board. A train left before dawn this morning from Donetsk to cross front lines from rebel-held territory, to Ukrainian government-controlled area towards the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, carrying that precious cargo of more than 200 victims, their bodies on board that train. They will then be flown from Kharkiv to Amsterdam where the process -- the grim process of identifying the bodies will begin for ultimate repatriation to the victims' countries of origin -- Christine.

ROMANS: And Ivan, in a sort of mock kind of diplomatic press conference, I don't know what you had, the rebels handing over the black boxes to Malaysian authorities. Tell us a little bit about that handover. Certainly, it changed. They have been holding on to it for several days. Pressure from Vladimir Putin, we don't know, certainly pressure from the rest of the world to hand those over and they did.

WATSON: Yes, more than four days after the crash, the leader of the separatists here, the self-declared prime minister, Olexander Borodai, had a ceremony, a signing ceremony with the Malaysian delegation in which he handed over these orange devices, commonly referred to as black boxes with the words "flight recorder" clearly written on the side.

Now, for more than four days, this man, himself, said we have taken technical objects from the crash site, but we don't have the technical expertise to confirm whether or not they are the flight recorders, though here, we see, it's clearly marked on the side of the devices. That, perhaps, is helping lead to the conclusion or accusation that some Western governments led that the rebels are not being entirely transparent about the investigation or they are withholding information, or certainly these flight recorders, to bargain.

Well, the Malaysian delegation thanked the self-declared prime minister for his cooperation. And the Malaysians announced an agreement to provide free and safe access for international experts to the crash zone -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Ivan Watson for us in Donetsk, thank you.

BERMAN: The big news this morning, as Ivan reported just moments ago -- the trains carrying the remains of the victims of Flight 17, they just began arriving in Kharkiv. They pulled out of Donetsk last night. They've now arrived, as we said, in the Ukrainian controlled city of Kharkiv, many hours away. The 282 bodies will be flown to the Netherlands after they are processed.

For families who lost loved ones. The pain is palpable.


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 after three months not to be able to silence the rebellion. I hope President Obama finds a way to punish the responsible people for this hideous act.


BERMAN: Nick Paton Walsh joins us now live on the phone from Kharkiv in Ukraine, where again, those trains just pulled in.

Nick, what can you tell us this morning?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, about an hour ago, some armed men accompanying turned up here. They have just been taken inside a building nearby the railway station in Kharkiv where we believe the process of unloading the trains will slowly begin to happen. The train was said to have left from Donetsk and moved up towards (INAUDIBLE) not the normal route you would take, not the direct route, but presumably the safer route. They just arrived here now.

I would think there are some separatist militants guarding that particular train, because the relation they seem to have with Ukrainians around them, once Ukrainians (INAUDIBLE) there was security accompanying it. We've also seen inside the train, some of the Malaysian experts who are accompanying the very tragic cargo that train contains.

As I say, it's inside now. We have been told by a Dutch official, it's closed military territory that just next to this railway station, which we believe in the past (INAUDIBLE) that they will be there where the bodies are taken off.

A Dutch soldier at the airport told me that coffins are being brought in slowly over the past two or three days, two days, I should say. It's trying to assist with the job of giving these bodies with much dignity as can possibly be provided. But now, the train actually arrived here. Very labor intensive, and (INAUDIBLE) said to be moving the victims from the train where they sat for over a day now. Put them in the coffins and transport back them to the airport and back to the Netherlands will begin.

A very difficult work. There's Dutch citizens who become to flood in here, help by Australians in the town as well. We haven't seen many of the victims of this crash but certainly, this town, in many ways seems to be happening inside it now -- John.

BERMAN: A grim task, an enormous task, but such an important task for the families onboard that flight.

Our Nick Paton Walsh who just saw the trains begin to roll in there with the bodies onboard.

ROMANS: All right. Right now, the eyes of the world are on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Putin is publicly backing a U.N. resolution to bring the victims home and allow investigators complete access to the crash scene. His propaganda machine inside Russia continues to point blame at the West and at Ukraine.

Listen to Sarah First, the latest journalist from the show 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 that we are trying to fight against. And at that point, you really, really feel the sense that there's no adequate questioning.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Let's bring in Diane Magnay, live from Moscow this morning.

And, clearly, how this story is playing out from where you are is different from the rest of the world. The internal sort of spin machine, the conspiracy theories, the blaming other people and pointing fingers in a lot of directions, that's what's sort of happening inside of Russia.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Christine. The conspiracy theories, especially in the first days after that plane crashed were extraordinary. You had one that it was perhaps Ukrainian military taking down president Putin's jet. They mistook that for the airliner.

Another theory that these were actually bodies the plane was full of dead bodies from MH370 crash that were stored and deposited here. So, you know, really, conspiracy theories rather ridiculous.

But, the sort of official position we heard, for example from the defense ministry and also from the Russian ambassador to the U.N. is that they are asking questions of Kiev as to why they were BUK missile launches that belonged to the Ukrainian military at the time. Why they say there was a Ukrainian fighter jet flying close to the Malaysian airline plane when it went down. And the Russian officials refute the evidence that the U.S. and the Ukrainians put there that these audios that were doctored.

So, it really is a question of claim and counterclaim and all of this fueling the information war that is going on between, you know, the West and Russia and which has been going on all the way since the crisis began. So, it's difficult to really imagine the Russian president changing his story, especially now that this site has been so tampered with, that the evidence will possibly never prove things one way or another, Christine.

ROMANS: Certainly, Diana, all eyes are on him and what he will say next about the investigation and the official Russian position on it.

Thank you so much, Diana Magnay in Moscow for us this morning.

BERMAN: Our coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 continues all morning long. But, first, Secretary of State John Kerry trying to broker a cease-fire deal between Hamas and Israel, this as the death toll skyrockets in Gaza. Will the secretary have any chance of success? We are live in Gaza, next.


BERMAN: Turning to other major story, the bloody struggle between Israel, Hamas and Gaza. Nearly 600 Palestinians, many of them civilians have been killed, along with 29 Israeli troops. Israeli fighter planes have been 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 Israel cease- fire proposal that has been on the table.


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


BERMAN: Karl Penhaul is live in Gaza right now with the latest developments.

And, Karl, there have been explosions behind you again all night. What's the latest there on the ground?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, those bombings, that artillery fire that has been going on throughout the night and throughout the morning as well. Israeli naval gun boats in action pounding the Gaza coast from the other side, the border between Gaza and Israel on the eastern side. Artillery pieces have been pounding the eastern neighborhoods and also air strikes going in both from drones, we believe and 16 fighter jets. Hamas, though, is not giving up the fight.

We have seen rockets being launched, multiple rockets launched from single firing positions here in Gaza and we understand that in certain parts of the east of Gaza, the Israeli military where they have boots on the ground are finding fierce resistance from Hamas who are fighting aboveground and also below ground in those tunnel complexes they have been building and perfecting since the last confrontations with Israel in 2012 and 2009.

And that, perhaps is one reason Israel may not be too keen for a cease-fire right now. One of its stated missions was to come in here and destroy the tunnel complexes to prevent Hamas from burrowing into Israel and fighting on Israeli territory. Hamas continues to do that despite the fire power directed at them. Clearly haven't shut down the rocket launchers either.

Also, the wild card here, Hamas claims, as we know, over the weekend to have captured an Israeli soldier. This morning, the Israeli military says that it has identified six victims, six soldiers who are killed during a clash on Sunday, but they haven't yet determined the status of a seventh soldier. That is interpreted as meaning that either a body live or dead of an Israeli soldier is missing.

That could back up Hamas' claims and Hamas will want to use that soldier to leverage political and military gains out of Israel. Really, those talks go on in Cairo, there's a lot of confidence building that needs to be done. It will take a lot of diplomatic skill if we are going to see the guns fall silence, John.

BERMAN: A confidence building where there is no confidence right now. Karl Penhaul, live for us from Gaza this morning, thanks so much.

ROMANS: To Libya now where blood keeps spilling, 47 people killed in the last week, 120 others wounded. Rival militia's fighting for control of the international airport in the capital city of Tripoli. This is the worst in Libya in three years.

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

ROMANS: All right. Showdown at the border, Texas sending 1,000 troops to the scene, as Congress gridlocks over what to do with thousands of children crossing the border illegally. We've got what's happening on that, next.


BERMAN: Texas Governor Rick Perry will send as many 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the border of Mexico over the next month. The governor says they are needed to combat criminals exploiting the surge of children and families entering the U.S. illegally. The governor called on the Obama administration to deploy more border patrol agents saying the price of inaction is 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: An interesting development, the White House now says the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border actually dropped by about half from June to July.

ROMANS: So, you know, it's interesting, that the estimates for the size of this industry is more than $6 billion, this annual industry of the coyote, the traffickers who are taking 3,000 up to $10,000 to bring people here. Huge --

BERMAN: They are making lot of money.

ROMANS: They are making a lot of money.

All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money. Good day for stocks around the globe so far. European shares moving higher, Asian shares are up as well.

U.S. futures pointing higher. Why? Well, rebel leaders handed over two black boxes. There's hope for a cease-fire in Gaza that's easing investor concerns about these geopolitical risks. And now, the focus shifts to this meeting in the European Union. Leaders could decide to put more pressure on Russian president, Vladimir Putin, maybe expanded economic sanctions? That could mean expanding a list of people and companies, their assets are frozen.

The real question, how far is Europe willing to go if it means hurting its own economy to contain Russia? Consider this, the French have a deal to sell assault ships to Russia for more than a billion dollars. They're going to have to decide if they want to sacrifice maybe some of their exports, blow back from Russia. Europe and Russia's economy quite interconnected, no question.

BERMAN: And so far, they've shown no sign of sacrificing much of anything to help in that conflict.

I want to get an early look at the forecast. Indra Petersons is with us this morning.

Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Rumbles of things going on in the Atlantic. A lot of people are talking about this guy here. This is now our latest tropical depression, very close to tropical storm strength, current winds about 35 miles per hour. Just keep in mind, currently the forecast doesn't bring this guy strengthening. It's going to strengthen to a depression, but then weaken. It's not really expected to affect the U.S. mainland as a tropical storm as of now.

It's something we'll keep our eyes on to see whether or not any of that moisture could impact our weather really over the next week or so.

The big focus today out towards the Plains, really anywhere from Minneapolis, all the way down to Texas are going to be these temperatures. Now, these are the daytime highs. Look what happens once you add in the humidity. The heat index is going near 110 degrees. Definitely a huge risk for heat today.

The other side of it will be a threat for severe weather, especially keep in mind if you are flying through Chicago, we are looking for thunderstorms to be severe. Some of them bringing strong winds out there as well.

For the rest of you, still spotty showers in the southeast. Really watching that front in the Midwest make its way in the northeast by Wednesday. So, Wednesday night into Thursday, that's your shot at rain towards the Northeast again. Temperature-wise, it's warm again, but as soon as the cold front swings through, the temperatures back down and field a lot milder.

ROMANS: A difference over just a few days.


ROMANS: Thanks so much.

All right. Breaking new this is morning, pro-Russian rebels stepping aside, handing over those black boxes. But will investigators find evidence at the crash scene of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that hasn't been tampered with? We've got live team coverage right after the break.