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Who Shot Down MH-17?; Bodies of Passengers Leave Crash Site; All Eyes on Putin; Crisis in the Middle East

Aired July 22, 2014 - 05:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. The black boxes and the bodies of victims handed over from the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crash scene. Pro-Russian rebels seem to be cooperating with international investigators.

But days after the tragedy, has there been a cover up already at the crime scene? And will the evidence there lead investigators to Russian President Vladimir Putin?

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

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A push for peace in Gaza this morning as the death toll skyrockets from more airstrikes and stepped up ground invasions. Secretary of State John Kerry in the region hoping to broker a deal. We're live with what's happening right now.

Welcome back to EARLY START, I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thirty-one minutes past the hour. Welcome, all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

The black boxes from Flight 17 have now been turned over by pro- Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine. This is a crucial development for investigators trying to determine who fired the missile that blew the Boeing 777 out of the sky killing nearly 300 people on board.

President Obama still not satisfied that investigators are getting the full access they need at the crash scene.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, the Russian backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation. They've repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage. As investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air. These separatists are removing evidence from the crash site. All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?


BERMAN: Meanwhile, is Russian President Vladimir Putin now trying to distance himself from the rebels? I want you to listen to this. This is the Russian ambassador to the

United Nations. Is he suggesting that the downing of Flight 17 was little more than a mistake? Listen.


VITALLY CHURKIN, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down the military jet. So if they shot down the military jet, there was confusion. There was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.


BERMAN: So you hear that from the Russian ambassador to the U.N. but inside Russia, the spin campaign continues, blaming Ukraine and the West for the tragedy.

The fighting does continue just miles from the Flight 17 wreckage.

I want to bring in Ivan Watson live from Donetsk with the latest this morning.

Good morning, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right. The fighting has continued. We're not hearing as much artillery here in the separatist controlled city of Donetsk today as we heard throughout the day on Monday with at least five civilian residents of this city reported killed by the city administration. And we certainly saw some of the places where the shells landed.

This is the city that the train loaded with more than 200 bodies of MH-17 victims left from before dawn this morning on the long route to a government controlled city called Kharkiev where an international team of investigators, forensics experts are gathered to help transport the passengers bodies to Amsterdam, the point of origin of the doomed flight where forensics work will begin. The hard work of identifying the bodies.

Also, this is the city where before dawn this morning, the self- declared leaders of the separatist region, the self-declared prime minister staged an elaborate pre-dawn ceremony where he handed over the black boxes from MH-17 to a Malaysian delegation. And this self- declared prime minister, Alexander Borodai, took that opportunity to deny any links whatsoever to the shooting down of the plane and to pledge that he would work with international investigators to move forward on the investigation -- John.

BERMAN: Ivan, I wonder if you can you give us a sense of what's going on at the crash site this morning. I know these black boxes have been turned over. The bodies of the victims, thank goodness, have now been moved from the scene there. But what about the site itself with all that debris? Are the international investigators satisfied that they are finally getting the access that they want and that they need? WATSON: Well, the people have taken the lead on this are a group

called the OSCE. They are international monitors who are already stationed here in Ukraine at a number of different points not to have anything really to do with a tragedy involving a downed airliner, but were working here for monitoring the conflict here.

So they initially, on the first day, were quite restricted and as their spokesman said really embarrassed by the rebels when they went to the crash site and intimidated by them. They say that their access to the crash site has improved day after day. They were allowed to accompany -- to bring along Ukrainian civil aviation experts from the Ukrainian government which of course is not recognized by the separatists. They are at war with the Ukrainian government.

So they say that the access has improved. On Monday, Dutch forensic experts were allowed to visit the train cars where the passengers' bodies were being stored and also travel to the crash site as well. So we're being told that the access of the international experts who are starting to arrive has improved. The separatists are certainly providing more access.

One question remains, why did it take more than four days to hand over the black boxes, the flight recorders and why did the rebels say they weren't sure whether they actually had the black boxes, even though it was clearly written, as you can see in the video, on the side of the devices -- John.

BERMAN: Certainly makes you question the intent of the rebels and question perhaps what went on over the last four days at that crash scene as well.

Ivan Watson live for us in Donetsk. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. So those trains carrying the remains of the Flight 17 victims have now arrived in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Kharkiv. The 282 bodies will be processed and then they're going to be flown to the Netherlands.

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


RONALD SCHANSMAN, GRANDKID KILLED ON FLIGHT 17: I'm angry about the whole situation. I'm not only angry with the rebellion but also the 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.


ROMANS: Our Nick Paton Walsh is live on the phone for us from Kharkiv, Ukraine, for us.

And Nick, this is just -- such a complicated and heartbreaking operation that these officials have to do here to get these bodies back home to the Netherlands. What can you tell us is happening now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, I'm standing outside one of the territory where we're told the transfer process will happen from. The train just arrived in Kharkiv and the bodies being put in coffins, and then eventually to the planes that will fly them back to Amsterdam, to the Netherlands.

The place I'm at now, which just recently the site of the train pulling in. We saw the train arrive about an hour and a half ago. So one of the railway stations in Kharkiv, on the ground, what used to be a tank factory. Police there, a number of journalists and on the train itself we saw some Malaysian officials that we know are accompanying the bodies and also a couple of men who could well have been from the separatist militants. They wouldn't give any comments at all as to who they were and what they were doing there.

The Ukrainians (INAUDIBLE) didn't have a particularly friendly relationship with them. But these bodies now it seems are obviously in Kharkiv and now inside the territory of what we're told is a closed military area where the process of unloading them, putting them into the coffins which Dutch officials have told me have been flown in from the Netherlands, and then putting those coffins on to the plane.

How long that will take is unclear right now. But we are understanding that most of the identification procedures, that complex, painstaking and very tragic task of trying to work out quite who some of these bodies belong to and who they used to be when they were alive, when they are people, that will actually be occurring in the Netherlands rather than here inside Ukraine -- Christine.

ROMANS: So do we know how many bodies they have transported and sadly, because of the crash, not all of the bodies have been recovered.

WALSH: No. Some of the bodies apparently are still to be sorted out due to the nature of the devastation of what happened to the aircraft. You can imagine if a missile hits an airplane at 10,000 meters height, 33,000 feet, that will cause -- destroying the airplane but most of those on board -- the complex task for the medics arriving here. They've been coming in large numbers. Often with military expertise, soldiers, (INAUDIBLE), Dutch soldiers arriving at the airport, as much dignity as they can possibly salvage from this situation.

These bodies have sat on a train for over a day. And passage through (INAUDIBLE) territory, not entirely guaranteed until we saw them arrive here in Kharkiv just a couple of hours ago. Now, Dutch officials are extraordinary. A nation (INAUDIBLE). One soldier I spoke here said that pretty much everybody he knew, knew somebody on that plane. (INAUDIBLE). And I think that just goes to show really the level of intense emotion felt by the Dutch people right now -- Christine.

ROMANS: And several other nationalities on board as well so (INAUDIBLE) repatriation eventually to their families outside of Netherlands.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that, Nick.

BERMAN: And as this investigation continues into who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, all eyes on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Will the evidence at the crash scene link him, link actual Russian troops to the crime? We're live with that part of the story, next.


BERMAN: Right now the eyes of the world very much on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Just what is he thinking now? Publicly, he's backing a U.N. resolution to bring the Flight 17 victims home and allow investigators complete access to the crash scene. But media inside Russia continues to point the blame at the West and Ukraine.

Listen to Sarah Firth, the latest journalist from "Russia Today," to publicly resign.


SARAH FIRTH, FORMER "RUSSIA TODAY" JOURNALIST: RT Style Guide Rule, a story like this is absolutely not Russia's fault. It's Ukraine's fault or whatever country that we're trying to fight back against. And at that point, you really, really feel the sense that there's no adequate questioning.


BERMAN: We bring in Diana Magnay now live from Moscow.

Diana, how is this story playing inside Russia right now?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Russian state media is charging Kiev and the West with basically presenting a foregone conclusion about who is responsible without having gathered any of the evidence and blaming Russia without really having a proper case. So in the same way as we in western media charge the Russians as orchestrating a spin campaign to frame the other, they do the same against western media.

There are pieces of evidence that the Russians have now pointed to, which they say raise questions over Kiev's role. They say that there was a Ukrainian warplane flying close to the airliner at the time of the incident as confirmed by video images that they have from one of their sites near the Russian-Ukrainian border. And they say they have satellite images which show a Ukrainian Buk missile launcher moving about the site at the time of the crash.

And they also say that this evidence that the Ukrainians and the U.S. have put out there, the audio intercepts and the video of a Buk missile launcher crossing back into Russia, are fakes and have been tampered with.

The question of Russian involvement is twofold. First of all, did the Buk missile launcher which the Americans believe was responsible for bringing the plane down come from Russia, or could it have been the one that was captured by the -- by the pro-Russian separatists as they boasted about from a Ukrainian base on June 29th.

And the broader picture, of course, is the ongoing support that Mr. Putin has given to those pro-Russian separatists. So even if it wasn't Russian weaponry, Russian expertise, he has been allowing weapons and fighters to cross over that border. This conflict has been fueled by Russian involvement. And so in that context, it is his responsibility and the influence that he can bring to bear on bringing this conflict to a resolution which is why sanctions are now being rushed and people are pressing him so much to influence how the rebels on the ground are treating the crime scene and, you know, the quick repatriation of the bodies -- John.

BERMAN: It will be interesting to see if he does use some of that pressure going forward.

Diana Magnay, live for us in Moscow this morning. Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Kate Bolduan joins us this Tuesday morning.

Hi, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Good morning, guys. We're going to be following the two big breaking news story this morning. First, Ukraine where there have been breakthroughs this morning in just the past hour in just the MH-17 tragedy. The bodies of the passengers were finally moved from the crash site overnight on that train after pro-Russian rebels also handed over the plane's black boxes.

We're going to be looking at everything that investigators hope to learn and where the investigation moves from here.

Chris continues his great reporting. He is live on the ground.

And also, we're going to be talking about more violence overnight between Israel and Hamas as the death toll climbs -- continues to climb on both sides. Wolf Blitzer is there tracking the latest.

We're also going to be joined by many guests on both of these big stories including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Senator John McCain is going to be joining us. And CNN's Fareed Zakaria and Christiane Amanpour are also going to be here to give their insights.

Busy day ahead, guys.

ROMANS: Absolutely. All right. Thanks so much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

ROMANS: As Kate mentioned, the death toll rising in Gaza this morning. Bloody battles on the street. There's a new push for peace this morning. We're live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROMANS: Good morning. Now to the Middle East where the bloody struggle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is escalating. Twenty-seven Israeli soldiers have been killed along with nearly 600 Palestinians. Many of them civilians.

Israeli fighter planes relentlessly bombing Gaza City overnight. Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Cairo desperately trying to convince Hamas fighters to put down their weapons and accept an Egyptian cease-fire proposal.

Karl Penhaul live from Gaza with the latest developments. This is a situation that has escalated every day.

All right. I'm afraid Karl Penhaul can't hear us.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, today is no different -- hi, Christine. Yes, today is absolutely no different. Gaza is being pounded, especially along its eastern flanks. We've heard naval gun boats in action sending artillery from the sea on to the mainland and now in the last few moments, we've seen a series of huge explosions going on in some of eastern Gaza's neighborhoods.

It's unclear what is causing those explosions. They could be airstrikes or my bet is that maybe Israel's combat field engineers have moved into those neighborhoods and have possibly detected the mouths of some of these militant tunnels and are now using explosives to ensure that those tunnels are collapsed and they can no longer be used by the militants for cross-border raids.

Now of course that was one of the key aims of Israel when it launched its ground incursion into Gaza and really that is what Israel is up against. This is in a race against time to shut down Hamas rocket launchers. It's in a race against time to shut down -- Hamas tunnels so that they cannot come into Israel and fight Israel on its own home turf.

Once Israel has got that job done, then I guess that there would be some chance of a cease-fire. But right now Hamas also feels that in guerilla warfare terms, it's giving a very good account of itself. And so for that reason, the Hamas may be loathe to stop the fight right now. The overriding reason for the cease-fire, of course, though, is that right now, according to the United Nations, 70 percent of the victims is civilians -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Karl Penhaul for us this morning in Gaza. Thanks, Karl.

Russia facing new sanctions this morning in the aftermath of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. We're going to get an EARLY START on your money, next.


ROMANS: Welcome back. Russia could face new sanctions. European Union leaders meeting today. They could decide to put more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. With expanded economic sanctions, that means widening its list of people and companies under travel bans and asset freezes. The real question, how serious is Europe about trying to restrain and hurt Russia if it hurts its own economy?

The French, for example, have a very big deal to sell these helicopter carrier ships to Russia for more than a billion dollars. There are in fact Russian sailors being trained in France right now to run those ships. There have been calls that perhaps that deal should be off as a first step. We're going to learn later today just how deep these sanctions will go if there are any new ones.

"NEW DAY" starts right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, we are live at the crash scene in eastern Ukraine. Finally, the bodies of the victims are out of militant territory and have begun the long trip home.

The black boxes are finally in the hands of investigators. This morning, though, new accusations --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What exactly are they trying to hide?

CUOMO: And new fighting, making getting answers for grieving families even harder.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

Also breaking, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Cairo. Can he stop the bloodshed? The violence escalating, 27 Israeli soldiers killed and --