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FAA Bans U.S. Flights to Tel Aviv; CNN Reporter's Plane Diverted from Tel Aviv; Interview with Mark Regev; Interview with Osama Hamdan; U.S. Officials: Russians Still Sending Weapons into Ukraine; Crash Site Compromised; President Obama Ignores Critics

Aired July 22, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report.

Breaking news -- airport danger -- airlines around the world cancel flights to Tel Aviv, as a rocket strikes frightfully close to the airport.

Human cost -- the number of dead in Gaza keeps climbing, with dozens more Palestinians reported killed as pressure grows for a cease-fire.

Missile evidence -- holes in the wreckage of Malaysia Flight 17's fuselage show extensive explosion and shrapnel damage. We have new information about what U.S. intelligence has now learned.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Dramatic new international fallout from the fighting between Israel and Hamas. It's raging on despite increased efforts to try to broker a cease- fire.

Continued Israeli strikes on Gaza have pushed the death toll there to at least 630 people. Twenty-eight Israeli soldiers have also died, as well as two Israeli civilians. And the impact from this crisis is clearly spreading.

U.S. aviation officials are now taking drastic action. They're banning American carriers from flying into Israel's main airport after a rocket struck this house, about a mile away from Ben Gurion International Airport.

International airlines are now following the U.S. lead, with Lufthansa, KLM, Air France among those canceling flights into Ben- Gurion Airport, at least for 24 to 36 hours.

We're following all angles of the fighting, the fallout, plus major new developments in the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 with our correspondents and our guests.

CNN's Atika Schubert begins our coverage this hour over at Ben Gurion International Airport. That's just outside Tel Aviv.

Set the scene for us -- Atika. What is going on at Ben-Gurion Airport?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, airport operations seem to be going as normal. We just all an El Al flight take off and another one land. So the airport is trying to say things, business as usual.

But United Airlines, Delta, U.S. Airways all canceling their flights here, and now European airlines, as well.

And, in the meantime, we ourselves have had the sirens go off. We've seen a rocket interception overhead, just above Ben-Gurion Airport. It sounds like another plane is just about taking off now.

And with those kinds of rockets still coming in, including that one you pointed out that hit a house here in Yahud, the town we're in now, completely destroying that house, civil be aviation authorities are looking for more assurances that it's safe enough to land planes here. And until they get those assurances, they say they're going to be diverting planes away from Ben-Gurion Airport.

BLITZER: Atika, that rocket that destroyed that house, for all practical purposes, near the airport, that was a rocket that came in, presumably, from Gaza. \

Did the -- I guess the Iron Dome, Israel's anti-missile system, didn't necessarily work in this particular occasion.

Was the Iron Dome even activated?

SHUBERT: The Iron Dome was definitely activated, but it isn't going to work 100 percent of the time. That rocket definitely came from Gaza. More than 2,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the start of this most recent offensive into Gaza. But even though the Iron Dome is able to intercept a lot of them, it doesn't get all of them. And this one that happened to hit that house in Yahud, practically destroying it.

BLITZER: Atika Schubert outside Ben-Gurion Airport. Atika, thank you.

Coming up, by the way, our next hour, I'll speak live with the head of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority. He's working with the FAA to try to get U.S. airlines cleared to resume flying to Israel. We'll get the latest from him. That's coming up in our next hour.

These new safety fears about Israeli air space come less than a week after Malaysia Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. And all of it is raising serious questions about potential danger we all face when we fly.

Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is in Washington working this part of the story for us. What are you finding out -- Rene?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a rare move. The FAA says it was pushed to ban flights in and out of Israel's main airport because of the today's rocket attack. That was the catalyst, not the threat from Hamas, 11 days ago threatening an attack on the airport.


MARSH (voice-over): All U.S. airline flights in and out of Israel canceled, one Delta flight turned around mid-air. The flight path shows the plane, bored for Tel Aviv with 290 passengers and crew on board, was diverted to Paris.

The U.S. government taking no chances after last week's deadly missile attack on Malaysia Flight 17. And after this -- rocket remnants found in a demolished house just one mile from Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport.

The FAA alerting airlines even even before it could send out a formal 24-hour ban on flights.

And jittery carriers responding immediately.

GEORGE BIRNBAUM, ADVISER TO ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: I think what you're seeing is, yes, a -- a super sensitive reaction to what happened on Monday over Ukraine by the U.S. carriers.

MARSH: Other airlines following suit -- United, U.S. Air and some international carriers, including Lufthansa, KLM and Norwegian.

But Israel is pushing back, trying to reassure airlines it is safe to fly to and from its main airport. An angry Israeli transport minister called the U.S. move a, quote, "prize to terror."

The country's own airline, El Al, continues to fly.

Currently, the FAA prohibits U.S. airlines from flying over Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, North Korea, Northern Ethiopia and Libya. U.S. planes can fly over Iraq, but only above 20,000 feet. And the FAA warns of dangers, including missiles and small arms fire, for airlines flying over eight other countries, including Syria and Afghanistan.

But it's up to the individual airline to heed the warning. Some critics say security decisions belong solely with governments and said FAA warnings urging airlines to use, quote, "extreme caution" is too vague.

JAMES HALL, FORMER NTSB CHAIRMAN: I have no idea what extreme caution means at 33,000 feet in a commercial airliner that has no protection against any ground to air missiles. I don't know what the FAA is saying there.

That's their responsibility. They're the regulatory authority and the regulatory organizations. And they need to err on the side of caution.

(END VIDEO TAPE) MARSH: All right. Well, the decision is -- the FAA decision is, let's be very clear, much bigger than restricting air space over parts of the country. This decision essentially bans flight. And it is, essentially more disruptive. It really does just take Israel off of the map for U.S. carriers.

And the question remains, when the FAA lifts the ban, will that reassure airlines to resume flights or will it be necessary to see a cease-fire before they start resuming flights once again?

We can tell you that the FAA, Wolf, will be reconsidering the ban after 24 hours.

BLITZER: Rene Marsh, thanks very much for that update. Good questions, indeed.

CNN's John Vause was on that Delta flight -- Delta Flight 468 from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv when it was diverted to Paris.

John is joining us on the phone right now. So what happened -- John? Walk us through your experience on that Delta flight.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Wolf, as you noted, the 10 hour flight from (INAUDIBLE) to Ben-Gurion Airport there in Tel Aviv. It was all very standard up until just after the -- well, up until the last hour, as we were coming pretty much on final approach, coming into Tel Aviv, when the captain got on the inflight announcement system and said that we were turning back, that the plane was being diverted back to Paris because that was a safe place to be. Because he said a rocket had just landed in the vicinity of the Tel Aviv airport.

And as the pilot of the plane and as a company, Delta had made a decision that it was not safe for the plane to land.

We were initially told that we were heading back to Paris for a five hour window when they would reassess the security situation. That then became quite -- quite a few hours longer than that. And, as you know and has been reported, there's now, I think, a 24-hour stay on any American U.S.-based carrier heading into Israel -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John Vause, we're having a little difficulty with your line, but we got the gist of your point. At least you're safe and sound in Paris right now.

John Vause was on that flight from New York to Tel Aviv. As it was making that final approach toward Israel, it made a U-turn over Greece, flew to Paris and that's that. No more Delta flights into Israel. The United flights, United Airways flights, at least for 24 hours. Several European carriers have suspended flights in and out of Israel, as well.

Up next, growing pressure for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. I'll talk to both sides about efforts to try to stop the bloodshed. Plus, conflicting claims about the bodies of Malaysia Flight 17 victims. A spokesman for the international monitors at the scene will help us find the facts.

We're live here in Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem, where we're following all the breaking news, including the FAA barring all U.S. flights to Israel's main airport near Tel Aviv because of rocket fire nearby.

Let's talk about that and more with Mark Regev.

He's the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Mark, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Was the FAA, in Washington, right in suspending, at least for 24 hours, all U.S. flights in and out of Israel?

REGEV: We in Israel pride ourselves on a certain number of things, and one of them is airline security. We've got at excellent record. I think our airport in Israel is one of the most protected facilities in the country. Our airplanes are taking off and landing safely. We don't see a security threat that can't be dealt with. From our point of view, that airport is functioning. It's working, and it's safe to travel to and from Israel.

BLITZER: There's a report in one of the Israeli newspapers that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the secretary of state, John Kerry, to see if he could get that FAA decision reversed. Is that true?

REGEV: I don't want to go into details of confidential conversations. But let's be clear: our message to the American government is that our security is good. We're willing to be totally transparent with the American side and work with them to show them that there is no danger, that those planes, as you can see, are taking off and landing from Ben Gurion.

We haven't had a single incident at the airport with planes taking off and landing since the crisis in Gaza started, and I'm sure as we engage with the American side and show them the facts, that they'll be convinced that that airport can be used.

BLITZER: The FAA, in their statement, they said the notice was issued in response to a rocket strike which landed approximately one mile from the airport. That's pretty close to Ben Gurion International Airport. You saw the pictures of that house that was destroyed.

REGEV: Correct. But I mean, ultimately, remember the airport itself is one of the most highly secured areas or facilities in the country. And we never had an attack on the airport. We've never had an attack on one of the runways of the airport. And you've got to remember that Iron Dome system can pinpoint incoming rockets to know where they're going to fall.

BLITZER: But this one they missed.

REGEV: Once again, but it wasn't at the airport. And I'd say the following. I would think that the chances of something happening at the airport, I mean at LAX in Los Angeles, LAX, you could you have an earthquake. You could have the same in Japan. There's always a risk wherever you go.

The risk in Israel is minimal. We have a very good, excellent safety record. And on airline security, Israel is a world leader.

BLITZER: What's the status of an effort for a cease-fire? Is the secretary of state, John Kerry, coming there to Israel?

REGEV: I can't talk about his travel plans.

BLITZER: The prime minister spoke with him.

REGEV: If the secretary decides to come, he'll be a welcome guest. The diplomacy is still in play. We had a meeting today with the U.N. secretary-general.

Ultimately, the goal is a long-term sustained peace and quiet for the people of Israel. Those missiles coming into Israel have to stop. The terrorist attacks from Gaza have to stop. If that can be achieved diplomatically, fine. In the meantime, Israel is acting against Hamas, acting against the Hamas military machine.

BLITZER: one quick question. I spoke earlier today with Madeline Albright, the former U.S. secretary of state. And she bluntly said to me Israel is overreacting. Listen to this.


MADELINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think this is hurting Israel's moral authority. I do think that it looks as though they are overdoing, which is why I think there has to be more emphasis on the fact that they have accepted the cease-fire.


BLITZER: Your response?

REGEV: We've accepted the cease-fire. She's 100 percent correct. The only reason the conflict continues is because Hamas rejected the cease-fire. Hamas wants this conflict to continue, and they're paying a price because of it.

If anyone says Israel's overreacting, I'd say what would you do? What would your country do; what would your government do with more than 2,000 rockets raining down on your cities fired by terrorists? What would you do? What would your government do if terrorists were coming across the frontier in these tunnels with armored -- with explosives and automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades to kill and maim people? What would your government do? What would your government do if these missile attacks were threatening to close down your main transport facilities? I think if you look at our response, it's been measured and it's been proportionate.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, thanks very much for joining us.

REGEV: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Let's get the Palestinian reaction now. Joining us is the Hamas -- Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan. He's joining us from Doha in Qatar.

Mr. Hamdan, thanks very much for joining us. As I recall, we discussed this had last week, you and me. You were warning international airlines not to fly into Israel. You said they would be endangered. What's your reaction to this decision today by the U.S. FAA to ban U.S. carriers from flying in and out of Israel for 24 hours?

OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: Well, we warned them, because we were not willing to have any civilians being killed through this Israeli attack against the Palestinians and the Palestinian resistance reaction.

And this warning was because we care about the lives of the civilians, so we appreciate that response, and we hold that it can be for the end of the Israeli attack, not for just 24 hours. I believe this will secure the civilian flights and the life of the civilians who are on those flights.

BLITZER: You saw that one of your rockets landed about a mile away from Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv, destroyed a house out there. Are your rocketeers, are your guys who are launching those rockets, are you deliberately targeting Ben Gurion International Airport?

HAMDAN: Well, it's clear that the Israelis have targeted all the civilian houses in Gaza. We are talking now about mosques, about houses. More than 7,000 houses were destroyed, partially or completely. We are talking about 600 casualties. Most of them, they are children, women, and civilians. And we are talking about more than 3,500 persons, as well, injured and 89 percent of them that were civilians.

So what's -- what the Palestinians are supposed to do? To give their mix (ph) for the Israelis to slaughter them or to try to defend themselves?

We were expecting that the international community will protect the Palestinians from the Israelis; will protect the Palestinians from the mentality of Netanyahu, who lost his morals and his army also, and he's reflecting a new image for Hitler and the Knesset's army. They are acting in the same way, killing the Palestinians just because they are Palestinians, like what Hitler was doing in the last century.

BLITZER: Mr. Hamdan, when we spoke last week, you told me that Hamas had rejected that Egyptian-sponsored cease-fire because you never formally received the paperwork for it. Israel, as you recall, accepted the cease-fire. It lasted for six hours. You were continuing to launch rockets and missiles during those six hours. Israel then reopened its attacks against targets in Gaza.

Do you now have a formal proposal from Egypt for a cease-fire, and will you accept it?

HAMDAN: Let me clarify two points. First of all, we welcome to the Egyptian role, but we reject the proposal. And there is a difference between welcoming the role and not accepting some ideas.

The second point: we accept the humanitarian cease-fire, and it worked well until the Israelis violated it twice. Once by attacking and the second by attacking Shah Jayia (ph).

What we are talking about now, there is some ideas being discussed through the political circles with Hamas, and part of that, Egypt is participating. We hope that we can achieve a cease-fire.

Our position is clear. There is a Palestinian demands. We wanted to be part of the agreement of the cease-fire; opening the borders, ending the siege on the Palestinians, releasing the Palestinians who were arrested after the fake story of the three settlers in West Bank.

All what has been done based on this story supposed to be stopped because no one knows what exactly happened except Netanyahu, who was in charge and was responsible for that fake story.

BLITZER: The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, he was with Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, today. He was in Tel Aviv. They were both in Tel Aviv. And he said this. Netanyahu said this about Hamas. Listen to this.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas is like ISIS. Hamas is like al Qaeda. Hamas is like Hezbollah. Hamas is like Boko Haram. This is part of a larger pattern. What grievance can we solve for Hamas? Their grievance is that we exist. They don't want a two- state solution. They don't want any state solution.


BLITZER: Well, do you want to respond to that, Mr. Hamdan?

HAMDAN: Well, he's very cold when he's lying. He knows that this is lies. He knows that Hamas is different. Hamas is seeking to have an independent Palestinian sovereign state. We have said that clearly.

We give the peace negotiations chances in 2000, 2005, and 2012. We gave those chances, but the one who destroyed the possibilities for a two-state solution is Netanyahu himself. Secretary Kerry knows that well, better than anyone else. The

Palestinian side negotiated Netanyahu. They know that. Netanyahu himself he knows that. He destroyed the chances of the peace process and the creation of the Palestinian state, and now he's trying to destroy the Palestinian people themselves. And that's happening in Gaza and the West Bank at the same time.

So what I have to tell Mr. Netanyahu, you have to understand the facts of the life. You can't keep occupying the Palestinian lands, fighting the Palestinians. You have to admit that there is a historical mistake was done by occupying the Palestinian lands. You have to withdraw your troops. This can be done peacefully. If it's not done in this way, the Palestinians will resist for generation until their lands will be liberated.

BLITZER: Osama Hamdan joining from us Doha, Qatar, the spokesman for Hamas. Mr. Hamdan, thanks very much for joining us. We'll continue our conversations. We've had now several over the past few days. Osama Hamdan of Hamas.

Coming up, breaking news on the investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. That's coming up.

Also, I'll ask one of President Obama's top national security advisors about the Malaysia jet, as well as the threat to airliners flying to and from Israel. Lots more breaking news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are going to have much more on the breaking news here in Jerusalem. But there's other breaking news we're following on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Just now, U.S. intelligence officials have released some new evidence. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She was at the briefing.

What did you learn, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you think Moscow is about to behave, think again. U.S. officials say the Russians are still sending weapons and systems and vehicles across the border into Ukraine, perhaps as many as 20 systems alone on today.


STARR (voice-over): With the remains of the victims on their way back to their loved ones, and the data recorders in the hands of investigators, the U.S. intelligence community is sharply focused on how the attack unfolded. There are some things they say they know.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was downed by a missile that was fired from the ground. That missile was fired from a separatist-controlled area.

STARR: What they say they don't know, were Russians directly involved. That is now the key question.

CNN obtained this diagram put together by the U.S. intelligence community showing the trajectory of the attack after analyzing several pieces of data. U.S. intelligence picked up the missile launcher being turned on. Then the vertical ascent of the missile and its heat plume enabling intelligence analysts to then calculate the missile's trajectory and launch point on the ground near the Russian border.

MH17 was on this course when the missile was fired, hitting the plane here. There were secondary explosions from the plane as it crashed to the ground. Getting to the wreckage now vital. Pieces of the missile may still be there and the wreckage of MH17 itself has much to tell.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Analysis of the shrapnel and the damage to the aircraft will tell us exactly where the aircraft was struck, what systems were hit and how the aircraft actually came down.

STARR: But who fired the missile of still may it be difficult to determine.


STARR: Wolf, we have additional critical information just in. I want to put up this satellite image for everyone to see. This is a Russian military called Rostov just across the border inside Russia. Two images taken a month apart, the one on the left in June, the one on the right in July. And you can see the buildup there in white of additional Russian weaponry coming into this base.

This is the area Rostov where the U.S. believes the rebels have been trained on surface-to-air missiles, also the area the Russians are using as the point from which to send additional weapons noose Ukraine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story that is.

All right, Barbara, excellent reporting. Thanks very much.

Let's dig deeper right now. Joining us is Ben Rhodes, he is the deputy national security advisor at the White House, assistant to President Obama.

Ben, thanks very much for joining us.

Let me get your reaction. We know the Russians now know where they're still moving equipment around. New images of this training camp. Does this new intelligence further point to the pro-Russian rebels inside Ukraine for being responsible for the take-down of that Malaysia airliner.

BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Absolutely, Wolf. I mean, what we see is this was an SA-11 missile. And we see it as having originated from, been fired the territory inside eastern Ukraine that is controlled by the Russian-back the separatists. And as you heard Barbara say, this is a missile that goes essentially straight up vertically. And we see in our intelligence that if that missile went up and intercepted the plane. We've also seen as you noted that there has been a steady flow of heavy weapons across that boarder from Russia, including anti-aircraft systems.

BLITZER: And the heavy flow is continuing even now in the aftermath of the downing of that plane with 298 people on board.

RHODES: That's right, Wolf. And what you will remember from last week is when we imposed sanctions on Russia, very deep sanctions, that cut into some of their sectors, the day before the downing of this plane, we cited the heavy flow of weaponry across that border as one of the approximate causes of those sanctions. The continued support from the Russia to the separatists is why we feel like we may need to continue to ratchet up the pressure. And you saw the Europeans meet today and indicate their willingness to start to move into some of these sectors, financial, energy and arms, as well. They are going to be making decisions on that in the coming days. And we will be coordinating with them, as well.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a blunt question, Ben. How much responsibility does the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, bear for the deaths of those 298 passengers and crew members on that flight?

RHODES: Well, we're still working to, again, determine whether there was a direct link, whether Russians were on the ground. The degree to which Russians may have trained these separatists. What we do know is it's not easy to operate one of these SA-11 systems. It tends to take several days if not more of training.

So we do think President Putin and the Russian government bears responsibility for the support they provided to the separatists, the arms they have provided to the separatists, the training that they provided as well and the general unstable environment in eastern Ukraine. There is a direct responsibility on Russia which is why we impose the sanctions. And we are going to continue to pull the threat on this case to determine exactly who we believe fired that missile.

BLITZER: Let me turn to the situation here in Israel and in Gaza. Get your reaction first of all, the FAA, as you know, is prohibited all U.S. airlines from flying in and out of Israel's Ben Gurion airport. That decision, I take it was an FAA decision, but was the White House involved, notified? What was the role of the state department, the political team shall we say, in that decision?

RHODES: Well, we were certainly notified by the FAA this morning of their intention to provide this warning. This is standard practice, Wolf. What happened is a rocket landed within a mile of Ben Gurion airport. That has a trigger for the FAA where they feel compelled and responsible to issue this guidance to American air carriers. This is something they will review it on a 24-hour basis. But we want to take an abundance of caution when it comes to the lives of Americans and the safety of our air carriers. And if the FAA feels there's a threat in the vicinity, we have to take that very seriously. And frankly, the situation that we saw in Ukraine only underscores the need to take extra precautions when it comes to the safety of civilian airliners.

BLITZER: Was there any connection to the state department travel advisory issued the night before urging Americans to avoid nonessential travel to Israel, the west bank, certainly to Gaza? Was there a connection between these two events?

RHODES: No, there wasn't, Wolf. The state department warning has to do with the general environment in Israel where we see continued rocket fire from Hamas and, of course, the continued conflict there. This is a very specific warning that has to do with the airport. And again, if we hadn't seen the type of threat that we saw with the missile landing near the airport, the rocket landing near the airport, we wouldn't have had to issue this aviation guidance. So this is a very distinct warning that has to do with the security Ben Gurion airport and we can review that again 24 hours from now to see if we still believe that threat is real and current.

BLITZER: Do you know if Prime Minister Netanyahu in that phone conversation with secretary of state Kerry formally asked Secretary Kerry to convince the FAA to reverse that is decision?

RHODES: Well, we understand that the Israelis have raised concerns about the warning. We understand that they want the flow of air travel into Israel. They want to again restore calm and normal life within Israel. That's entirely understandable.

Again, at the same time, we're not going to overrule the FAA when they believe their security procedures are triggered. So we are going to do whatever is necessary to provide for the security of American air carriers. We'll have a dialogue with Israel about these issues.

At the same time, Secretary Kerry is in the region working to bring about an immediate cease fire which would be the best way to restore calm and part of any cease-fire we agree to that Israel agrees to would have to involve Hamas stopping the rocket fire that precipitated this conflict and that obviously precipitated these warnings.

BLITZER: Any progress being made in the effort to achieve a cease- fire?

RHODES: Well, I think Secretary Kerry's had good discussions in Egypt. Israel has indicated support for the Egyptian proposal. What we need to do now is continue to work with the parties in the region to, working with President Abbas and make clear to Hamas that now is the time to restore calm to have them come in line with the cease-fire as they did in 2012 when we were able to achieve an outcome where we saw an end to the rocket fire and calm restored in the region.

BLITZER: Former secretary of state Madeline Albright told me earlier today she was raising serious questions about what we called the proportionality of Israel's response to all the Hamas rockets and missiles coming in. And she said the response was undermining Israel's moral authority. Here's the question. Has Israel gone too far?

RHODES: Well, look, Wolf, we've said number one, the conflict was precipitated by Hamas from hiring rockets. Number two, Israel has a right to defend itself from attacks from rockets and tunnels.

At the same time, though, we do believe Israel can do more to avoid the types of civilian casualties that we've seen in recent days. We have been heartbroken at the loss of Palestinian life, the loss of children. And so, we believe that Israel has to take greater care to avoid those types of civilian casualties.

At the same time, we've been very troubled and disturb and heartbroken by the loss of Israeli life since this ground incursion began. That's why we want to work for a cease-fire so that there can be an end to this violence.

Again, Israel has a right to defend itself. But as it does, it needs to take care to avoid the types of tragic civilian casualties that we've seen.

BLITZER: Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor at the White House.

Ben, thanks very much for joining us is. And we certainly hope you'll be coming back sooner rather than later. Thank you very much.

RHODES: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, bodies of Malaysia flight 17 victims being prepared for return to the Netherlands amid confusion and conflicting reports.

We're live in Ukraine with the very latest.


BLITZER: There are disturbing new questions now that the train carrying the bodies of the Malaysia Airlines passengers has arrived in a city controlled by Ukraine's government. We're hearing conflicting reports about how many bodies are actually on the train, and how many might still be at that awful crash site.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is joining us now from Kharkiv in Ukraine.

What is the very latest there, Nick?


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They wait for the bodies here. And in the Netherlands, Australia, the train. For it to crawl out of a savage civil war so the dead on it might rest. It emerges, ghostly silent. A few defined men dressed in fatigues, Ukrainian police also there. And inside we glimpse two Malaysian officials on board also, with the black boxes.

Carriages with the bodies sealed with construction foam. Little dignity, holidaymakers caught up in a callous civil war.

(On camera): We understand this man is part of the security detail accompanying this train. We don't know whether they are separatists or with the Ukrainian government but this is the first time this train has been seen in public outside of separatist held areas and for the families of those on board. Really just one part of a tragic and awful journey.

(Voice-over): He says he's from Donetsk but not who he's with. But he does this if we ask if he's Ukrainian.

Inside this compound, the painful grim work will begin of placing human remains in coffins. It may be hard to even count the damaged bodies on the train definitively, one told me. But with the crash site so compromised the bodies in black boxes inside may be the closest in hard fact of what happened to MH-17.

A steady flow of Dutch officials coming in the night before. Forensic experts a huge task ahead.

(On camera): Can you explain what it was like for the Dutch people, what's happened in the past four or five days?

HOWARD MAY, DUTCH SOLDIER: I think it was very sad and very hard for most majority because everybody probably knew someone obviously who was on the -- who was on the plane.

WALSH (voice-over): The bodies slowly to be brought here flown home where still then some will need to be identified before they can rest.


WALSH: Now, Wolf, you were mentioning the discrepancy in the numbers there. The separatists and the Malaysian security official traveling with those bodies on the train says that there were 282 in a good enough condition to be identified and 87 body parts but the Dutch investigators we're talking to here say they understand there are about 200 bodies in that condition on that train, potentially there could be 98 whose whereabouts are yet to be known.

They're still going through the five refrigerated wagons on the train. They've gone through the first one and they're moving into the second one now and the first 50 bodies recovered will go to Amsterdam and tomorrow at about 11:00 local time here. The concern, though, are there still human remains at that crash site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a -- what a heart-wrenching story this has been.

Nick Paton Walsh, on the scene for us, thank you so much.

At the top of our next hour, I'll speak live with Israel's top official in charge of civilian air travel and airports in Israel. He's very critical of the airlines and the countries that have now canceled service in and out of Tel Aviv.

Stand by for that, much more of our coverage on the crisis in the Middle East. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: In the next hour, Air Force One will be touching down in Seattle despite the ongoing crisis around the globe. President Obama decided to ignore his critics, go ahead with a three-day series of political fundraisers.

Here's our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just before the president's three-day Democratic fundraising trip on the West Coast, aides arranged a last-minute stop at the Dutch embassy where Mr. Obama offered his condolences to the Netherlands for the passengers killed aboard Flight 17.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will work with them to make sure that loved ones are recovered. That a proper investigation is conducted and that ultimately justice is done.

ACOSTA: The White House message was in part that president can multitask, which is why even with the Flight 17 investigation and the violence in Gaza that prompted the FAA to halt flights into Israel, the president has no plans to scrap this week's schedule that includes five fundraisers on the West Coast. Counting the donor events he's already done this month, that's 11 for July. On average, one every other day.

Criticism started last week when the president stuck to his photo ops and fundraisers in the hours after the crash.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: And I can't imagine Eisenhower or Reagan or Kennedy or Bill Clinton doing this.

ACOSTA: White House aides defend the president's schedule.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's got his own airplane. He's got dedicated phone lines. He has senior advisors who will be accompanying him every step of the way.

ACOSTA: And they pointed key administration officials in various hot spots. Secretary of State John Kerry in the Middle East and chief of staff Denis McDonough in Berlin to mend fences after the U.S.-German spy spying scandal.

While Mr. Obama will be courting donors at an event hosted by TV producer Shonda Rhimes, his defenders note other presidents have raised Hollywood money, too, as George W. Bush did with Arnold Schwarzenegger during the Iraq war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm aware that they handed out the Oscars last Sunday night. "Terminator 3" didn't win any.

ACOSTA: But there's one stop the president won't be making this week. After exploring an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," the White House pulled the plug.

EARNEST: That is at least in part related to the challenges of doing a comedy show in the midst of some of these other more serious matters the president is dealing with on the international scene.


ACOSTA: And the White House was issuing some strong hints today that if events heat up overseas, he may be -- the president may be heading back to Washington quickly.

Wolf, he may bail on these fundraising trips if things get too hot at some of these hot spots overseas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like it's getting hotter and hotter.

Jim Acosta at the White House. Thanks very much.

Coming up, we'll have much more of the breaking news. The FAA temporarily banning all U.S. flights to and from Tel Aviv. I'll talk about that with the head of Israel's civil aviation authority.

Our special report live from Jerusalem, that's next.