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Gaza violence: No End in Sight; MH17 Shot Down: Investigating the Crash Site; Jude Rules in Favor of Shelly Sterling

Aired July 29, 2014 - 04:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight: Israel promising a prolonged assault on Hamas. Seventy targets hit overnight, as the violence intensifies this morning. Meanwhile, the White House tries to ensure the world it stands with Israel.

We are live in Gaza with the latest developments.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also happening right now: investigators trying, yet again, to reach the crash site of Malaysia Flight 17. But is fighting between pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine making it too dangerous, again? This, as world leaders are ready to punish Russia with tougher sanctions for arming rebels in Ukraine.

We're live with the latest on that.

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

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It's Tuesday, July 29th. It's 4:00 in the East.

And welcome all of our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Up first, deadly violence rocking Gaza. An explosion at a refugee camp killing 10 Palestinians, eight of them children and a devastating blast at the biggest hospital complex. Hamas blames Israel for the attacks. But the Israelis insist their carried out no strikes in the area and they blame Hamas for this carnage.

Meanwhile, prospects for a cease-fire just fading fast this morning, if not gone altogether for now. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing this offensive in Gaza will be a lengthy campaign with more difficult days ahead.

Karl Penhaul is live in Gaza this morning.

Karl, what can you tell us?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was a pretty intense night throughout the night in central Gaza City. We saw Israeli illumination flares lighting up the night sky. That is because it was a moonless night and Israelis needed to get their drones up into the air and use their cameras to try and see what was going on down on the ground, to try and spot some targets.

Now, those illumination flares went off for about two hours, and then after that, the Israeli military started to pound targets across Gaza City and all points north, south and east. We saw explosions going into buildings 500 yards away from where we are now, obviously forcing us to take cover because of the size of the bombs. The shrapnel fragments could have easily flown into the office where we were, but saw a number of explosions were close by, lightning up the night sky.

We know that a mosque was at least one of the targets. The Israeli minister says they believe it was used as a weapons dump and also a firing point for rockets. Other buildings have senior Hamas leaders around are also targeted.

And that building behind me, the large white building, that is Al Aqsa radio, that is the Hamas radio station. That also took three strikes, in what appeared to be 500-pound bombs.

You mentioned yesterday, also in the afternoon, that terrible explosion that killed 10 people on a residential street, including eight children. Once again, the warring sides are in the he said/she said, who done it, who is to blame.

Really, we went down and looked at what had gone on and now is the time. We have heard the excuses of the warring sides again and again. When we went down there, what I really wanted to hear was a little bit about the young kids that have been dying and down one of the back alleys close to where the explosion happened, I said to a little girl, as the body of a young boy was being brought so his mother could give him a final farewell kiss before he went off to be buried. I said to this little 12-year-old girl. I said, did you know him? She says, yes. He was Mohamed. He was a friend but he was like my brother.

And I said, tell me about him. And she said, well, you know, he was top of his class and loved football. He was a real Barcelona soccer club fan and Lionel Messi, that star striker. Well, Ibrahim was his hero, little Mohammed loved Lionel Messi, and now, well, little Mohammed, you're not going to get him because he was buried yesterday -- John.

BERMAN: Karl Penhaul, an important note, that there are real people caught in the middle of this conflict right now. We appreciate your reporting from Gaza this morning. Thanks very much.

HARLOW: Meantime, Secretary of State John Kerry under pressure this morning from a growing number of Israelis who believe that he is favoring Hamas in his attempt to broker a ceasefire in Gaza. The White House along with the House Speaker sending a clear message that the U.S. is behind Israel.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Israel is our friend and Israel's enemies are our enemies.

SUSAN RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Here is one thing you never have to worry about, America's support for the state of Israel.


HARLOW: Well, the Obama administration is firing back at Kerry's critics, as new cracks appear in U.S.-Israeli relations. We'll get more from our White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.



The Obama administration is soundly defending Secretary of State John Kerry's continuing efforts to help bring about a cease-fire in the Middle East despite some criticism coming from Israel. There have been reports over there that Israeli officials were upset, that they were saying behind the scenes that Kerry was too accommodating of Hamas, which Israel insists needs to put down its arms before Israel will ease the blockade over the Gaza Strip.

So, now, this all raised questions over whether the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is damaged. There's tension there. The White House is denying this, so is the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. In fact, the White House is saying the cease-fire proposal that supposedly upset the Israelis wasn't even a U.S. proposal, but an Egyptian one.

For now, the administration continues to stress that Israel has the right to defend itself, it takes precautions not to hurt civilians, holds itself to Hamas, wraps itself around civilians, targets them. The White House did add though that the reconstruction of Gaza is critical to forging peace, saying that the U.S. remains deeply engaged in this process -- Poppy and John.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Michelle Kosinski for that.

Now to the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, fierce fighting near the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 forcing a team of investigators from Australia and the Netherlands to abandon their efforts to reach the crash site. A spokesman for the group tells CNN, we are sick and tired of being delayed.

This as Ukrainian officials confirmed that data recovered from Flight 17 black boxes indicates a missile did indeed take the jet liner down. Dutch officials will release their official findings on Friday.

I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh live on the phone from Donetsk in Ukraine.

Nick, these investigators, what is their plan for today? Will they keep trying to get back to that crash site?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): They will keep trying. And they have said right now, there are intense preparations to arrange another visit. But I have to say, yesterday, they made a move about an hour ago

towards the site, in coordination with the separatists and then they turned back at a town called (INAUDIBLE). Now, today, they have not made a move as of yet. So, you can possibly read into that, that situation is complex. We certainly know there are talks going out obtaining access to that area.

But this whole area is a scene of intensive advances by various different sides, mostly it seems by Ukrainians, certainly to the north of Donetsk have been moving south very fast. We heard last night, artillery, some loud explosions and small fire as well. That suggests certainly a fluid situation, at the least.

We also understand, in the key town around the crash site, Ukrainians are moving in. They say they are moving in as much as they can. The separatists say they are holding them back and they may be taking some ground. But things are moving fast here in a way we haven't seen during the last two or three months of this conflict. I think many people are wondering quite that means for access for investigators. Does it mean the crash site changes hands and makes it easier or does the violence simply mean it's too unsafe to drive down the road? John?

BERMAN: It's unfortunate this investigation is being impeded. But it does seem now, this is a key front, maybe the most contested front right now in this conflict between the Ukrainian government and these pro-Russian rebels.

Our thanks to Nick Paton Walsh live in Donetsk this morning.

HARLOW: Also this morning, the White House counting on the European Union to slap Russia with tough new sanctions. That could happen as soon today. Right now, members of the European Union are meeting in Brussels, discussing tough new sanctions that would target specifically Moscow's financial and energy sectors. This is something that the White House believes is critical to reigning in Vladimir Putin.


TONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What we've seen repeatedly from Putin is when the pressure increases, he makes tactical retreats, he tries to say the right thing in public, but unfortunately, he's playing a double game. There's real urgency in trying to get the Russians to turn the corner and finally start to de- escalate, which is exactly why we're in full agreement with the Europeans that we need to proceed with additional steps that will be significant.


HARLOW: We'll see what happens. Those sanctions, thus far have really not had an impact in Russia, at least in terms of their public message.

Also unfolding this morning, the Obama administration accusing Russia of testing a new ground launched cruise missile. That's in violation of a treaty signed back in 1987.

BERMAN: The Centers for Disease Control taking no chances fighting the spread of Ebola to the United States. The CDC has issued a level two health alert, advising doctors to check patients travel histories and learn the symptoms of Ebola. The agency acknowledges the risk of the deadly virus reaching our shores is low, very low. But an outbreak spread across West Africa, killing 700 people and affecting two American aid workers.

HARLOW: According to a new report, the NSA surveillance threatened the freedom of the press. That is what Human Rights Watch and the ACLU say in its joint report after interviewing more than 90 journalists, lawyers and current or former senior officials. Now, the report says government officials have more concerns about dealing with the media because, quote, any interaction risks leaving a digital trace that could be subsequently used against them.

The Justice Department, though, firing back, criticizing the report's methodology, saying it relies much too much on opinion rather than fact.

BERMAN: The White House reportedly considering granting work permits to allow some undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally. President Obama has said he will take executive action if immigration reform legislation continues to stall in Congress. Later today, the House Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from the director of citizenship and immigration services.

HARLOW: All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money. European shares right now are up in trading. Asian stocks ended the day higher as well.

Here in the U.S., futures are pointing slightly lower. We saw barely any movement in terms of U.S. stock yesterday, that's because we have a lot of big economic news coming up later this week. We're going to get the latest GDP reports. Also, those job numbers on Friday morning.

Today is the first of a two-day Federal Reserve meeting here in the United States. Investors will, of course, be looking to those central bankers for any clues about the Fed's timeline in terms of when they are going to raise interest rates. We'll keep a close eye on this.

BERMAN: The big business story today maybe the sanctions in Russia would be big and new and could change the situation.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up for us, a wanted suspected child molester profiled on CNN's "THE HUNT" tracked down by police. A viewer's tip making it all possible. But the story does not end there. A wild gun battle. We'll have the story, next.


BERMAN: Quite a story here. A suspected sex offender featured on CNN's "THE HUNT" with John Walsh killed after a shootout with police here in New York City. Thirty-two-year-old Charles Mozdir had been on the run for two years when police got a tip on his whereabouts. Officers confronted Mozdir at his job at a smoke shop downtown in downtown New York, Greenwich Village.

John Walsh spoke out about the capture with our Don Lemon.


JOHN WALSH, CNN HOST, "THE HUNT": There are many times sociopaths have no remorse. But when they get cornered, like a rat, sometimes they are very violent. I think that the marshals believe that he knew he was on "THE HUNT" and they were closing in on him. I think he thought he would not do very well in prison.


BERMAN: Hmm. Mozdir was accused of molesting a friend's 7-year-old son in California. After an episode of "THE HUNT" aired over the weekend, a tipster contacted authorities and gave them Mozdir's cell phone number. This gun battle ensued once police tracked him down at his job on Monday. Two U.S. marshals and an NYPD detective were wounded in this shootout.

HARLOW: All right. Well, Donald Sterling's bid to try to remain owner of the L.A. Clippers suffered a blow. A California judge ruling in favor of his estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, giving her the green light to proceed with the record $2 billion sale of that NBA franchise to who? To former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Sterling's lawyers, they're not giving up. They say they're going to keep fighting.

Here is more from Stephanie Elam.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John and Poppy, Shelly Sterling came to this courthouse here to get its blessing on her right to sell the Clippers. In a packed courtroom, the judge agreed with her, ruling that she was the sole trustee of the Sterling family trust, which she worked out a record $2 billion deal to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

The judge also ruled in favor of Shelly that no further litigation by Sterling could hinder the deal with Ballmer.

But Donald's lawyer Bobby Samini says the fight isn't over.

BOBBY SAMINI, DONALD STERLING'S LAWYER: His reaction is very calm. He didn't see this as the final battleground. So, this is, you know, one stage of a long war. This is one battle.

ELAM: Shelly Sterling openly wept as her victory sank in. Outside the courtroom, she told me she won the honest way and so did Los Angeles.

SHELLY STERLING, PLAINTIFF: We have the best new owner that anybody could ever find and I think it will be even better than it was before.

ELAM: Ballmer's lawyer says they expect more grenades from Donald in a form of appeals but Ballmer is optimistic.

ADAM STREISAND, ATTORNEY FOR STEVE BALLMER: He's really excited about the team, about this city and about, you know, bringing dignity back to the Clippers.

ELAM: The NBA issued a statement saying it looks forward to the transaction closing as soon as possible. The deal with Ballmer is expected to close around August 15th.

John and Poppy, back to you.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Stephanie Elam for that. My bet is this thing is not over just yet.

Happening today, more witnesses for the prosecution at the so-called front porch shooting trial in Detroit. Theodore Wafer faces murder charges in the shooting death of an unarmed teenager Renisha McBride on his front porch last November. The defense claims that Wafer believes McBride was breaking into his home and that his actions were justified. Prosecutors say there was no reason to use deadly force rather than call police.

HARLOW: Also today, a federal appeals court striking down Virginia's ban on gay marriage. It is the first such decision in a Southern U.S. state. It followed similar rulings in just recent weeks by other appellate courts, tossing up bans in Utah and in Oklahoma. Meantime, North Carolina's attorney general announced the state will no longer defend its gay marriage ban against legal challengers. Roy Cooper says it is time to stop making arguments, we will lose.

Also this, coming up here on EARLY START, severe storms continuing across the country. Amazing video. Look at that from Colorado late yesterday. Tornadoes touching down. The airport was closed down for a while, leaving trails of destruction. This morning, people trying to pick up the pieces as millions brace for a big change in the forecast.

We'll have all that, straight ahead.


BERMAN: All right. Look at this.



This is a tornado touching down just north of Denver, one of two twisters to hit that area. Another one came within eight miles of Denver International Airport, causing 30-minute shutdown. We are getting some reports that businesses damaged but no injuries. HARLOW: And then this, I know Berman was watching this closely,

another tornado tearing rooftops off in the suburbs of Boston. 65 homes and businesses damaged or destroyed because of a tornado with close to 3,000 power outages there. The twister packed 120-mile-an- hour winds and carved a path of destruction two miles long.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty scary. This is the kind of stuff I see on TV that happens in other parts of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The backyard, all the fences are down, trees are everywhere. It's just crazy.


HARLOW: Yes, certainly not what they were expecting. There were two injuries reported, including a baby in a car who was hit by flying glass.

BERMAN: I had never seen anything like that in this part of Massachusetts. Just north of Boston, the beaches there, seeing bad weather, hurricane, things like that, but not tornadoes.

HARLOW: No tornadoes.

BERMAN: Catastrophic flooding in southern Nevada. Officials forced to shut down Highway 157. It's north of Las Vegas. Debris flows five feet deep, damaging homes and leaving more than 100 residents there without water.

HARLOW: Also, really heavy flooding hitting southern Arizona hard, taking out this 60 foot steel wall. It sits right near the U.S./Mexico border. Border agents were alerted. It was built in 2011 and it was taken out by this flooding.

BERMAN: So, thankfully, the forecast looks better for today. So, let's get an EARLY START on that with Chad Myers.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Poppy. Good morning, John.

Nice cool weather across the Northeast, all the Midwest really for that matter today. Partly cloudy, a couple showers, but nothing organized like we had yesterday across parts of Massachusetts and the like. Showers will be in the Rockies. A lot of lightning out here, too. Some of that lightning could spark wildfires. We hate that when that happens out there, when there's not enough rain in the thunderstorm to put the fire out, that the lightning created.

Eighty-one Denver, 87 in Albuquerque, 81 in Salt Lake City, so quite mild out there, 78 in San Francisco, warm with an east wind there.

Here goes the front now for tomorrow, pushing almost all the way down to Cuba. So, that cool air sinks all the way back into the Ohio Valley, all the way down to the Deep South. You may not notice it is cooler, but you will notice, it is drier. It's not the stifling muggy mess that we always have here down in the South. High pressure does that out of the north, it brings at least cooler and slightly drier air.

Seventy-seven for Chicago tomorrow, 82 Minneapolis, 80 degrees in L.A. and 93 in Albuquerque.

Enjoy your day.

HARLOW: It is a perfect running day for Berman.

BERMAN: It is a perfect running day. At some point, I will bathe as well.

Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

Happening now: Bombs flying over Gaza. The violence, it is intensifying. Israel warns it will not back down from the fight against Hamas. We'll have live team coverage, just after the break.