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Deadly Blast at U.N. School in Gaza; MH17 Shot Down: Bodies Leave Ukraine; Air Algerie Jetliner Crashes in Mali

Aired July 25, 2014 - 05:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All of this playing out as more victims of the tragedy leave Ukraine for the Netherlands this morning. We have live team coverage straight ahead.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. It's Friday, July 25, it is 5:00 exactly in the East.

We welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

It was supposed to be a safe haven. A U.N. school in northern Gaza serving as a shelter in a village under siege. Now, that school, U.N. school, is stained with the blood of children. An explosion in the courtyard killing 16, wounding scores more.

Palestinians blame Israel for the deadly attack. They said it could have been a Hamas rocket. Both sides in possession of a cease-fire proposal delivered by Secretary of State John Kerry as Israel presses on. The Palestinian death toll topping 800.

Karl Penhaul live from Gaza this morning.

And the U.N. school incident react -- you know, officials outraged that safe haven had been targeted. But it's still unclear exactly who is to blame.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. I mean, first of all, in terms of diplomatic push for cease-fire, the fight on the ground here in Gaza is very much on. Just before we were going to come to air to you guys in the last hour, a Hamas rocket went out from over our shoulder. We may have a piece of video for you.

You can probably see me ducking away there. Well, you know, our policy is to duck first, then ask questions later. The questions we are asking this morning are who bombed that school with civilians who were sheltering there?

Now, United Nations on the one hand says that twice during the course of the day yesterday when it realized there was heavy fighting going on in that same area, the United Nations asked the Israeli military to cease activity to evacuate the civilians. They said twice that permission was denied. Now, the Israeli military came out last night and said, no, we offered them a four-hour window to get out. I talked to the U.N. again this morning. They said they do not know what the Israeli military is talking about. They say their desperate pleas were rejected.

Now, the Israeli military said there was fighting going on in this area. They came under fire from Hamas militants in the area around the school and opened fire with weapons to eliminate that threat. That, of course, is not an admission that they fired the round that fell into the school that killed so many and injured so many others. The Israeli military said they are investigating this. United Nations is also calling for a full report.

But over the last few days, the United Nations says that neither of the warring sides is respecting the neutrality of civilians or U.N. emblems. They say that over the last week or so, they have found two separate schools where Hamas stored rockets and they also said over the last three days, the Israelis have shelled two other schools where displaced people have been sheltering.

We have, of course, went down to the school to check out what we could see with our own eyes. All we found was a single point of detonation as an explosive had gone off. The Israelis suggested a Hamas rocket misfired. We found no evidence of that. Certainly found no debris from rocket part that is you would expect if a rocket misfired.

Still, keeping our eyes very much on this as well as looking to see if that diplomatic push can bear any fruits -- Christine.

ROMANS: Karl Penhaul, thank you for that, Karl.

HARLOW: All right. More planes are flying in and out of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel-Aviv today. The FAA lifting its ban on U.S. carriers flying in out of Tel-Aviv.

Meantime, back here in the United States, Republican Senator Ted Cruz is not backing down from the claim the ban was political. A charge the Obama administration calls ridiculous and offensive.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: This is a very different decision. If it emanated from the State Department of the White House as an economic tool to pressure Israel than if it was simply an expert judgment on airline safety.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Neither the decision to put the notice to airmen in place by the FAA or the decision to rescind last night had anything to do with politics.


HARLOW: U.S. officials warn that the ban could be reinstated. Why? Well, if it gets too tense around the airport again.

ROMAS: The latest now on the investigation into the attack on Flight 17. Investigators at the crash site in eastern Ukraine are still being denied access to the wreckage according to the Dutch prime minister. That wreckage, apparently still contains victims remains. The Russians are cooperating but at the same time, Russia denying involvement in the attack on the jet liner.


ALEXANDER VLADIMIROVICH YAKOVENKO, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED KINGDOM: Ukraine is full of weapons. Some of the weapons we have captured from the regular Ukrainian army. So, this is effect of the civil war. But Russia has nothing to do with that.


ROMANS: Nearly 100 Australian officers are now on call, poised to head to Ukraine to help with the crash site security. President Obama ensuring the Dutch prime minister of the U.S. will do everything it can to bring every victim home. Meanwhile, Ukrainian journalist working for CNN has been detained by pro-Russian separatists. Efforts by this network to free Anton Skiba have been unsuccessful, so far.

I want to bring in Phil Black. He's live from Donetsk, Ukraine.

And, Anton Skiba, Phil, had worked with you guys for a day as a freelancer. He worked with other news organizations in the past as well. He was whisked away and detained and we have been unsuccessful in getting his release.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Christine. He's now spent three nights in the custody of pro-Russian militants. We have heard from him once in that time, it was a brief phone call. We couldn't get through to him again after that.

So, this happened on Tuesday. We are returning from a day at the crash site when we were approached by a group of pro-Russian gunmen. They moved in on him quickly. They were looking for him. As they took him away, we tried to intervene and talk to him.

They made a number of allegations against him as they have done during the time since. They call him a terrorist, say he is dangerous and could be a Ukrainian agent.

As you mentioned, although we've only worked with him for 24 hours, he's well known to media here who had been covering this conflict for some months now. He's worked with a number of them. So, there are a lot of journalists here concerned about his well being. And indeed, we are hearing calls for his release from human rights groups, press freedoms groups, and even the U.S. State Department.

But it's worth noting, this is a reality of this conflict and has been from the beginning. Journalists being detained, intimidated, sometimes for extended periods of time. And these allegations, this sort of behavior on this conflict, not just the pro-Russian militants, but also Ukrainian government forces.

There's currently a Russian journalist or someone working for a Russia media organization, Graham Philips. He works for the RT network, they believe he's been detained by Ukrainian government forces for a second time. So, it is an unfortunate, ugly truth that has been persisted through this conflict, Christine.

ROMANS: Phil, let me ask you about the crash site, securing the crash site. We know that Australian military police, Australian officers are on call, getting ready to come in and try to figure out some way to secure that location.

When you're describing this atmosphere there, that sounds like a dangerous combination. How difficult is that going to be?

BLACK: Well, you can imagine, very difficult. In fact, difficult to see how it could be achieved without directly getting the permission of the pro-Russian forces in control of the region. These armed gunmen, what the Netherlands and Australia are talking about is sending in their own police or federal police.

The Australian government says some of them could be armed, injecting their own police forces into an ongoing civil war in territory that is controlled by separatist forces. It's an extraordinary idea. It goes toward showing the degree of the frustration the government of the Netherlands, Australians and other countries affected by MH17.

The frustration they are feeling over what has been a totally inadequate response to the crash site, because here we are, a week later. When you go out today, it is still insecure, it is not consolidated, there no one is examining the evidence and, crucially, there's still no one carrying out a thorough search for victims' bodies, Christine.

ROMANS: Unbelievable. All right. Phil Black for us in Donetsk -- thanks, Phil.

HARLOW: All right. And as Phil said, no thorough search for all the victims' remains in this deadly crash. But we do know that dozens more coffins bearing of the remains of 298 victims from MH17 are going to leave Ukraine bound for the Netherlands.

Let's go straight to Nick Paton Walsh. He is standing by on the tarmac at the airport in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Nick, I know when we spoke with you earlier, the plane's engines were starting up. Do we know, if they have left yet with those coffins and the remains?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. You joined me minutes after the Dutch C130 took its tragic cargo of bodies to the skies, behind me. A somber moment for the Dutch and Australian foreign ministers here. They haven't head comments, as of yet. They have driven out to the Australian C17, a much larger aircraft that will probably arrive in the Netherlands the same time as the earlier one to talk to the crew there and they will come back and make some remarks.

But, really, a solemn moment where they had to think hopes today, that this would have been the last flights carrying bodies back. But it's being such a complex task, unpacking that grim cargo of that refrigerated train containing the human remains.

Now, when the last C17 takes off, it will have moved back 188 coffins. They expect a smaller load to depart tomorrow, perhaps one plane leaving in the morning. The presence of the high level dignitaries, Julie Bishop from Australia and Frans Timmermans from the Netherlands was intended, really as a final farewell to end this part of the process, repatriation of the bodies.

But all new saga now begins as Phil was saying, both nations have police, potentially the Australians, some of them armed, on route -- access they have been given under the control of separatist militants.

You read between the lines and talk to Dutch officials here. It doesn't seem to be adequate to them. They want a sense of independence. They want to feel that this is not something being granted by people they consider culprits potentially in the downing of MH17.

So, we are going to see tense days ahead as the police officers come here, want access to the crash site, really seems to want it under the auspices of the Ukrainian government, but at the same time has to negotiate with separatist militants that they consider perhaps to be culprits in the downing of the airliner that killed 198 people.

So, somber moments on the tarmac here certainly. That orange plane, off to my side here the Dutch foreign minister will soon be leaving. But many here, I think, are standing in the moment and realizing the symbolism of the human remains leaving the Ukraine. Still, key questions unanswered. Do they represent all the people on the plane or are there still remains at the site, as intimated by Australian investigators apparently Australian investigators finding some when they went to the scene yet -- Poppy.

HARLOW: It is incredibly upsetting to all the families, all the loved ones, the entire -- all the country suffering from the loss. Those bodies, those remains deserve every bit of dignity they can get especially after what unfolded last week.

We've appreciate the update. Thank you, Nick.

This tragic story. A tragedy on board an Air Algerie flight, crashing in a rainstorm with more than 100 people on board. It happened over Mali. Investigators combing through the burned wreckage. We'll take live to talk about the latest on the crash, right after this break.


HARLOW: The wreckage of Air Algerie jetliner with 116 people on board has been found after crashing in a remote part of Mali. The MD-83 aircraft disappeared from radar during a rainstorm on Thursday. This marks the third major aviation disaster in just a week. There are no survivors. Frances president says it bodies of 51 passengers on board have been recovered and will be flown to Paris tomorrow.

Let's get the latest from our Al Goodman. He is in Spain. And, Al, Spain suffering, too, in this crash, all six crew members

from Spain. We have heard in the last few moments they have, indeed, recovered the critical flight data recorders. What else do we know?

AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is what the French president just announced in Paris. It seems he was waiting until this information was clearly in hand to say that the French military has been to the scene. This has been the speculation for the last several hours of who was going to get there first and secure it.

French troops have long operated in Africa where France had colonial ties and certainly in Mali where there have been insurgency. And so, they had troops in the area to get there quickly. They have secured the sight. These 51 French nationals aboard. That's the largest contingent out of the number of people aboard, which we have been reporting at 116. But we believe the French president said condolences to 118 people.

So, in this crash, as in a lot of crashes, there have been some conflicting information. Significantly the flight recorders in control of the authorities have been taken to the nearest city, according to these reports. So, clearly, things are moving ahead.

We've also been told by the transport minister of Mali, the plane is in Mali in some desert area there, that the president of Mali was planning to go this day. This is according to reports out of Mali by the news agency "Reuters".

So, a lot of developments in terms of securing this crash site. Clearly a big difference from what happened with the Malaysia plane a week ago, Poppy.

HARLOW: I know there is a lot of investigating they have to do to find out what took the plane down, the black boxes will be critical, but they are ruling some things out, right, Al?

GOODMAN: It appears. But it also appears we are getting conflicting -- we were told they could rule out a missile brought down the plane. But in the press conference, we're checking on this, it appears that they are leaving the options open. We have heard from the first time from a spokesman for the Spanish company that operated and leased that plane to the Algerian airline company coming out to say no survivors, extending condolences saying it's too early to tell what might have happened.

Separately, the pilot's union in Spain has said that these two pilots, both from the island of Majorca, a man and the co-pilot was a woman would have been considerable experience in Africa, although they are not sure how much experience on this route, Poppy.

HARLOW: Sure, and we do know that there were pretty severe thunderstorms rumbling around that area. But again, asking the questions of what else could have happened because flying over a conflict zone, Mali has been -- that area of Mali has been incredibly unstable, especially recently.

Appreciate the update, Al. We'll get back with you later. Thank you.

ROMANS: Another story we're following this morning. A gunman opens fire at a Pennsylvania hospital. Tragedy unfolds. This could have been much worse, we'll explain why after the break.


ROMANS: A psychiatrist is being called a hero this morning after shooting a patient who opened fire inside his Pennsylvania office. The scene unfolded on the Sister Marie Lenahan Wellness Center. This is just outside Philadelphia. Police say Richard Plotts, a patient there, pulled out a gun and killed his caseworker. That's when officer an unidentified doctor took out his personal gun and shot Plotts three times. Plotts returned fire, grazing the doctor with a bullet.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police came in droves. They locked down everything. They chased everybody on the inside, then we seen the SWAT team come in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cops coming from everywhere. I was scared, too, because I have never been in a situation like this.


ROMANS: Plotts is currently in critical condition. The doctor who shot him is expected to make a full recovery.

HARLOW: Now, this very sad story -- a deadly tornado tearing through a campground in Virginia killing two and injuring dozens more. The twister hit family camping in RV resort in Northampton County on Thursday morning. It packed winds up to 100 miles an hour. The tornado damaged structures along an eight-mile trail in the Chesapeake Bay.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was devastation everywhere. Trailers turned upside down. Trailer destroyed. And you can hear people were yelling, "Help me, help me, help me." We went toward where there was a bunch of screaming and yelling. A tree had fallen across the tent, full of children. I'm sorry, I can't go any further. That's where the fatalities occurred, where the tree fell on the tent, the children.


HARLOW: Absolutely devastating. The police say two people were killed and they were a couple from New Jersey.

All right. Looks like the severe weather may be clearing out for a lot of the country. Let's get an early look at the forecast with Indra Petersons.

ROMANS: Good morning, Indra. INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning.

Unfortunately, we had that one system that is moving out. Another is making its way in. Look at the satellite, you can see the cold front lingering, producing showers around Myrtle Beach. Notice the storms in the Midwest. This will bring a threat of severe weather closer toward the weekend.

So, let's talk about what's going on. Here is the heavy rain in the northeast. There's the tail end, bringing the chances for showers as we go through the weekend as it's stationary. It is lingering. Already seeing showers making their way in toward Chicago.

And this is the troublemaker. We are talking all the way in through Saturday and even through Sunday. This system will produce rain across the entire Ohio Valley to the northeast. Indianapolis could see three inches of rain. Everyone else, maybe some scattered showers. The severe weather is the concern with the cities, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis looking for the threat of weather Saturday. So, another round headed our way.

HARLOW: Wow. Great for the weekend, part of the weekend.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.

Time for an EARLY START on your money this morning.

Turmoil around the globe but new highs for stocks. Futures down right now. The stocks very much in record territory. The S&P 500 inching up to close at the highest level ever. The second day in a row. The S&P 500 closing in on the milestone, up 7 percent.

It's not all stocks though on record highs. Amazon is down 10 percent in pre-market trade. Investors -- they are familiar with the routine, post big sales, no profit.

But yesterday, $126 million loss was too much to ignore. Not hard to see where they are spending the money. They are rolling out products and services from Sunday delivery to the first smartphone. Everybody is looking at the big idea from Jeff Bezos, but the $126 million loss is something they didn't take well.

HARLOW: From the fire to drones.

ROMANS: Right.

HARLOW: It's Interesting to watch this company, but you have to look at the numbers.

ROMANS: Yes, stocks down 10 percent this morning.

All right. Breaking news this morning, are Israel and Hamas ready to stop the violence? Secretary of State John Kerry presenting a cease- fire deal overnight. We are live in Gaza, next.