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Gaza Violence: U.N. Urges Ceasefire; MH17 Shot Down: Russia Fires Back; American Reporter Detained in Iran

Aired July 28, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight. The United Nations urging Israel and Hamas to stop the violence, calling for an immediate cease-fire. They did this at an emergency meeting overnight. This as the death toll rises and finger-pointing to continue over who is responsible for a deadly attack on a Gaza school. We are live in Jerusalem with the new developments.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, this just breaking this morning. Russia firing back at accusations that it has been arming pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. This as intense fighting persists near the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. We are now learning that investigators, international investigators, are on their way to visit the scene and hopefully have access today. We'll have live team coverage of that development story as well.

Good morning, everyone. Happy Monday. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Poppy Harlow, in today for Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's Monday, July 28, it's 4:00 a.m. in the East. We welcome all our viewers here in the United States and around the world as well.

Breaking overnight, we are talking about the fighting in Gaza. Blood has been spilling on both sides of the battle, this despite the United Nations calling for a humanitarian cease-fire. Hamas launched what 70 rockets at Israel on Sunday. The Israelis conducting about 40 separate attacks on Hamas, both sides suffering fatalities.

Now, officials in Jerusalem are denying responsibility for 16 deaths last week at a U.N. school in Gaza, although they are confirming it was -- or there was an air mortar that struck the schoolyard.

I want to bring in Martin Savidge, live from Jerusalem.

Martin, why don't you give me a sense of what is happening right now? It is a holiday in Gaza.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, indeed. Yes, Eid is the celebration of the breaking of the fast, the festival that would end officially Ramadan -- normally, a very joyous time. It's anything but that in Gaza now.

Let's talk about what's happening in the peace process, and that's fairly simply to summarize. There's no cease-fire and right now, it doesn't look like there's going to be a cease-fire, at least for the immediate future. There were hopes yesterday that it might happen. They were times actually where both sides have agreed to at least what was called a humanitarian pause, unfortunately, they agreed to it at different times.

The Israelis were first. At that time, they were willing to observe 24 hours of the humanitarian cease-fire, Hamas said at that time, no, and continued firing rockets and mortars. And then a little 12 hours later, into the day Sunday, Hamas said, yes, now, we are ready for the cease-fire.

Israel said they weren't ready for that and didn't see signs that Hamas was ready, because the rockets continued to come from Gaza, striking Israel, according to Israeli defense forces. You already mentioned, 74 rockets yesterday. There has been one rocket already today, according to the IDF.

The death toll, meanwhile in Gaza for Palestinians rising ever more. It is now 1,032. Number of Israeli soldiers killed, 43, much higher than previous incursions and three civilians have also been killed in Israel. So, I think they would love to see a cease-fire, but it just does not appear to be in the works right now -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Martin Savidge for us in Jerusalem, monitoring the situation -- thanks so much, Martin.

HARLOW: President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone on Sunday. The White House says the president made it clear that America supports Israel but he also delivered a sobering message to the Israeli leader.

Here is our Erin McPike with more.


ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and John, over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry returned from Paris where he was trying to broker a deal for another cease-fire in Gaza, but was unsuccessful. Throughout the day on Sunday, he was placing calls to the region for the same purpose.

Later in the day on Sunday, the U.S. escalated the urgency for stopping hostilities now with President Obama speaking by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Now, according to the White House readout of that call, the president did reaffirm his support for Israel and its right to defend themselves, but he also reiterated the United States' serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Then, he also underscored the enduring importance of ensuring Israel's security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza's humanitarian crisis and enacting a sustainable cease-fire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza's long term development and economic needs while strengthening the Palestinian Authority. So, the interesting thing there is now, President Obama is applying increasing pressure to Netanyahu and the Israelis -- Poppy and John.


HARLOW: All right. Erin McPike for us at the White House this morning -- thank you, Erin.

Now to the crisis in Ukraine, the U.S. releasing satellite photos showing Russian forces apparently firing across the Ukrainian border into Ukraine, in support of the rebels, backing claims that Russia is directly involved in this conflict. Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, telling Secretary of State John Kerry, Moscow is not contributing to the conflict or the downing of Flight 17. Lavrov just held a news conference moments ago, we carried it alive here on CNN. He reiterated the claims.

Let's go straight to Diana Magnay for detail from Moscow.

So, it was interesting listening to this long press conference, with many points made. But as you pointed out, Diana, pushing this narrative that Russia is on the side of reason and international cooperation here. And also, interestingly Lavrov saying he's not sure what policies they want, right?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Poppy. He's saying, we are doing our bit, we have been at all the meetings where there were internationally agreed guidelines to try and find some kind of a resolution to this conflict to get both sides to sit down at the table and talk together and agree on a cease-fire. It wasn't us who didn't play ball, it was the West. It is the West who is supporting Kiev who does not want to sit down with the separatists in the east to talk.

And, Sergey Lavrov concluding, you know, that the West keeps saying to us we have to change our policy in eastern Ukraine. And we're not entirely sure what they mean by that.

Clearly, the position of the West is Russia is fueling this conflict by providing weaponry for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. But, that is something that Russia has categorically denied, despite the evidence to the contrary, despite to the fact that there is clear evidence when you're down there, that a lot of the military vehicles, a lot of the military kit, has just crossed the border from Russia.

And Sergey Lavrov, in that press conference, accusing the OSCE monitors of dragging their feet on the whole issue, saying, we're perfectly happy. We have invited them to come and inspect our border crossings to see whether there is any kind of activity.

He didn't deny in the press conference, which I thought was interesting, the fact weapons were crossing, which he was asked in one of the questions. But he said, the West has provided evidence of Russian shelling into Ukraine, but what about the shelling that is coming from the Ukrainian side into Russia. Already, one Russian civilian has been killed as a result of shelling.

And he also pointed to the influx of refugees from eastern Ukraine who fled the conflict and come to Russia. And it all fits into the picture you get here that there is a humanitarian crisis building in eastern Ukraine. That tens of thousands have already fled the conflict into Russia and that Russia is trying to protect itself in the border from this conflict, which is spilling over in the Russia direction.

And, of course, it is a completely different picture to the one the West is painting of how this conflict is unfolding, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes, the war of word continues. We appreciate the update, Diana. Thank you.

BERMAN: As for the downing of Flight 17, the investigation, data retrieved from the plane's black boxes is said to be consistent with a missile strike. And even though there is an agreement between the rebels and Malaysian government over access to the wreckage to that site, a new offensive by Ukrainian forces to recapture that area has been keeping investigators away.

Matthew Chance joins us now live from Kharkiv in Ukraine.

Matthew, what's the latest? It was Ukrainian government this time keeping investigators out.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it's true, John, that there is a new offensive under way in various areas around the crash site. Despite assurances from the Ukrainian government about six days ago that there would be a cease- fire zone imposed around that area, which is in rebel-controlled territory for the international investigators, the police teams from the Netherlands and from Australia, to gain access to that site and conduct very important work. But they need to undertake it to get human remains out of there.

There are still dozens of bodies that have not been accounted for and repatriated. There's still lots of personal belongings that have to be collected and evidence to give us more clarity on what exactly happened to MH17. So, that work has to be done.

At the moment, our understanding is that the OSCE, which is the European security body that is escorting those international experts, is on the road now from the eastern city of Donetsk, toward the crash site a short distance away. Yesterday, they tried to get access with the international experts to the area, but because of the fierce fighting raging around there over the course of the past 24 hours, 36 hours or so, they were unable to reach the crash site.

Today, the OSCE tells us they are more optimistic about reaching the site. They say they have had negotiations with both sides, both the rebels and Ukrainian governments, but they are not there yet. So, the coming hours will tell us and we have a CNN team traveling with that convoy. The coming hours will tell us whether they get access to that site or not -- John.

BERMAN: Matthew, you are right. We do have someone with that convoy. We'll check in with them as soon as they reach that site. Hopefully they will reach that site, access that these investigators need. Matthew Chance for us in Kharkiv, thanks so much.

HARLOW: All right. An agreement has been reached between House and Senate negotiators to work, to try to fix the Veterans Affairs health system. Lawmakers are expected to release the details of their plan this afternoon for veterans who live too far from a V.A. facility or waiting to long to get their needed treatment. This measure is expected to pay for visits to private doctors. It will earmark billions of dollars to hire doctors and nurses within the system and also to build or lease new facilities to treat the veterans.

BERMAN: With the summer recess right around the corner for Congress, lawmakers have days to act on the crisis at the border. President Obama has requested $4 billion in emergency funds. He is almost definitely not going to get that much. Republicans, including Michele Bachmann and Steven King, spent the weekend at the border, condemning the way the president is handling the crisis as donations pour in to help the tens of thousands of children who are fleeing their countries in fear for their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are our brothers and sisters who are suffering and many of whom are not being welcomed, right?


BERMAN: Coast Guard troops called in to secure the border do not have the right to make arrests -- sorry, that's National Guard troops who are called in last week, did not have ability to make arrests. That's because they were employed by Texas Governor Rick Perry, and not federal officials. The governor can give them powers to make arrests, but insiders say he most likely will not.

HARLOW: All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money this Monday morning. Looking at Europe, shares are higher there right now. Asian stocks up as well. Industrial profits rose in China, boosting some optimism about the second largest economy.

U.S. futures are pointing lower this morning, kicking off the most important week of the summer for economic data. Investors will be weighing a lot of earnings reports. The first reading of second quarter GDP comes this week, also the July jobs report comes on Friday morning, stocks fell broadly when you look at last Friday. We'll see what happens today when we open.

Also, reports this morning that Malaysia Airlines is considering a name change. The company has been part of two major tragedies, as you well know this year, that badly, badly tarnishes the brands image. According to "The Financial Times", the Malaysian government which, of course, owns a majority stake in this airline is looking at rebranding it, including changing its name, while restructuring part of that business. We will see what happens with that.

BERMAN: All right. Thirteen minutes after the hour. A deadly strike from the sky -- one man killed, a dozen more injured

when a rare lightning storm just terrorizes a California beach. A survivor is sharing his story, next.


BERMAN: Severe storm turned deadly along the California coast. A 20- year-old man was killed Sunday after being struck by lightning at Venice Beach. Thirteen others also injured. But witnesses say the severe weather just came out of nowhere.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden, there was a big flash of light and a boom. It felt like someone punched me in the back of my head like right here. It went down the right side of my body and my calf sort of locked up and I fell over. And I looked up and everybody else was fallen over.


BERMAN: One lucky guy, though. This is kind of storm unusual for this area. Officials say it was sparked by monsoon moisture.

HARLOW: Also some really severe weather to tell you about in parts of Tennessee. A tornado ripping through areas of the state, causing significant damage to homes in Washington and Sullivan counties. Downed power lines, also debris blocked the roadways there.

So far, though, luckily, there had been no reports of injuries. Crews, of course, are on the ground there working to try to restore power to hundreds of residents in that area.

BERMAN: A violent storm damaged homes in Lexington, Kentucky, Sunday morning.

Lexington's fire department struggled to respond to emergency calls after lightning disabled its communications. The storm knocked down trees, power lines across Central Kentucky, leaving thousands there without electricity.

HARLOW: And then also this, an early morning hailstorm pummeled central Wisconsin. This was early on Sunday morning, with get this, look at -- that's hail. You are looking at the pictures correctly. Hailstones, two inches across, some of them. Homes and cars were damaged by the 15-minute storm that just blanketed the streets with ice.

BERMAN: There is more severe weather is in the forecast this morning. Let's get an early look at that with Jennifer Gray.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John and Poppy, today, the severe threat is going to focus on the Southeast. We could see severe storms from the Carolinas all the way across to the Gulf Coast, including South Louisiana. We'll be looking for large hail, damaging winds, even a slight possibility of an isolated tornado or two. We'll be watching for that, especially into the afternoon.

In the meantime, nice, comfortable cooler air started to filter in across the north, Chicago, reaching a high temperature of only around 71 degrees. Later today, 79 in Minneapolis, 82 in Kansas City, in the Northeast, temperatures in the 80s, Boston at 80 degrees, New York City right at 82.

Tomorrow, mostly sunny skies move into the Southeast after those storms clear out. They'll be pushing into southern portions of Florida. More showers push into the West. That's good news. We need rain in the West to help out with the wildfire situation and see scattered storms push into the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley for tomorrow as well. High pressure in control across the Mississippi River Valley bringing nice weather to folks in the country's midsection.

Warm temperatures, though, in the 80s -- 91 in Dallas, 93 in Houston. Atlanta, we finally drop to around 83 degrees, a little bit of relief there, feeling relief in the Northeast as well as temperatures drop into the upper 70s -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Thanks, Jennifer. We appreciate it.

Crazy weather all summer long. Every few days we are talking tornadoes and hail in Wisconsin. It's crazy. Thanks, Jennifer.

Coming up here on EARLY START, two Americans affected with Ebola. Why this outbreak could be the deadliest yet?

BERMAN: Plus, concern growing for three American journalists detained in Tehran. We are live in Tehran with the very latest. That's next.


HARLOW: All right. This important story to tell you about. A second American aid worker in Liberia has now tested positive for the Ebola. Nancy Writebol of the humanitarian group serving in mission with treating Ebola patient in Monrovia. Her diagnosis comes after Dr. Kent Brantley noticed symptoms last week and isolated himself.

Health officials say the current outbreak of Ebola is the deadliest ever. Of the 1,093 confirmed and probable cases, we know that 660 people have died.

BERMAN: Happening now, an Iranian judiciary official confirming his country has taken four journalists into custody, including an American reporter for "The Washington Post", his wife and two freelance photographers who are U.S. citizens. But the Iranians are not giving a reason for the arrests.

I want to bring in Reza Sayah now live on the phone from Tehran.

Reza, what can you tell us about the journalists and what the Iranian government is saying?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, John, unfortunately, there's not a lot of information about the arrests. That's why a lot of people are getting concerned here, not just activists, but journalists here in Iran and throughout the world. A lot of people know the individuals who have been detained.

Let's tell you what we know. According to Iranian government, these four individuals were arrested Tuesday night, three of them are Iranian-Americans. All of them are journalists. Among them, Jason Rezaian, who has been here since 2008. "The Washington Post" bureau chief since 2012.

I personally know Jason. He has an exceptional reputation. He simply came back to Iran because he loved his country, loved his culture here. His wife was detained on Tuesday night. The two other Iranian- Americans have been detained, John. And what's troubling is that six days have passed, Iranian officials continue to say we'll have information about the arrests, but a lot of people waiting for answers.

BERMAN: Obviously, a very well-known guy. We are looking at picture of this man along with Anthony Bourdain, who visited with him during his travels in that country.

Reza Sayah live for us in Tehran this morning -- let's hope these journalists are released soon.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely.

All right. Also this breaking overnight, the United Nations holding an emergency meeting, urging an immediate cease-fire, a humanitarian cease-fire between Gaza and Israel. But this morning, the violence and finger-pointing between Hamas and Israel continues. We'll take you live to Jerusalem straight after the break.