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Israeli Airstrikes Bombard Gaza; Russian Economy Targeted; Ebola Crisis: Close Call for the U.S.

Aired July 30, 2014 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Gaza on fire. Israel pounding the streets with bombs, taking out Hamas targets. Power knocked out now for nearly 1 million Palestinians. Streets turn to rubble.

Another school, another packed U.N. school bombarded. And there seems to be no end in sight.

We have live team coverage from the ground in Gaza and Israel ahead.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Russia paying the price for arming separatists in Ukraine. Hit with worldwide sanctions that could cost that country billions. This as the fighting between the pro-Russian rebels and Ukraine's military keeps investigators from recovering bodies at the crash site of flight 17. We have live team coverage ahead.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, July 30th. It's 5:00 a.m. in the East.

We welcome all of our viewers here in the U.S. and around the word.

Let's begin this morning in Israel, ramping up the attacks on Gaza. Breaking overnight: another U.N. school shelled, leaving 19 people dead. This after the U.N. just confirmed a stockpile of Hamas missiles has been found in another of its schools.

Israeli airstrikes also torching the region's power plant. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians right now without electricity, and this morning, this disturbing new video. This is five Israeli soldiers being killed by Hamas gunmen who infiltrated the border and videotaped their deadly attack, videotaped it using helmet cams. Israeli officials insisting the only way to end this is to ramp up the onslaught.


RON PROSOR, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UN: We're dealing in essence not with a country. We're dealing with a terror organization that doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist and basically has a clear goal, and that is the eradication of the state of Israel.


ROMANS: John Vause joining us live from Gaza.

John, what are you seeing now?


Well, there has been this steady sound of explosions around Gaza City. Mostly it seems in the last hour or so, it is the sound of artillery, whether that is the tanks here in Gaza Strip or whether that in fact may be the Israeli ships just off the coast, it's unclear.

The air strikes haven't happened for a couple hours or so. But they did target a number of buildings not far from where we are right now. In fact, it has been a constant stream of explosions here in Gaza. We heard them throughout the night into the early morning hours of the morning.

You mentioned that U.N. school which apparently was hit, according to the U.N. at least by five Israeli artillery rounds. They say 19 people were killed there. 126 people were wounded. Happened around 4:30 local time. That's just when many people were getting up and out and about for early morning prayers.

Israel, though, saying that they are investigating that. It's very similar to what happened at that other U.N. school. The Israelis say they don't know what happened. They in fact say that Hamas may be to blame for that. That it could be in fact a Hamas rocket which hit that school. The Israelis releasing that video showing a mortar landing in the forecourt and nobody around but that is still a point of contention.

But the U.N. saying in fact five Israeli artillery rounds hit the schools. The schools being used for to it flee their homes either because they've come under attack or they because they worry that they will -- Christine.

ROMANS: So, John, tell me about the power plant up in flames. The pictures are amazing. You've got more than a million people now who are in the dark this morning.


Pretty much. There was no electricity pretty much for everybody in Gaza overnight, the entire night was pretty much black except for a few people who had generators.

Now, what again, another point of contention between the Israelis and Palestinians -- the Palestinians say that power plant was hit by an Israeli tank round. We went out there yesterday to have a look, and we could certainly hear the Israelis in the distance still firing, not far away from that power station.

But, again, Israel insisting it was not targeting that power plant. Another investigation ongoing on what may or may not have happened with that electricity station there. What appears to have happened is that one of the fuel storage depots

was hit by some kind of round, whether that was a Palestinian or Hamas rocket, or an Israeli tank round. Still as I say, a point of contention.

But the end result is, the vast majority of people no longer have electricity. Electricity comes in from Israel. They buy it from the Israelis. But earlier on, those transmission lines, five, maybe seven of the transmission lines have been damaged, some of those transmission lines damaged by Israeli fire and some by those Hamas rockets, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. John Vause for us this morning in Gaza, you can hear the thud of the explosions behind him. Thank you, John.

BERMAN: More than 1,200 Palestinians, more than 50 Israelis have been killed in the Gaza conflict this month. Now, a new poll released in Jerusalem shows that 86 percent of the Israeli people do not want a cease-fire until victory, they say is achieved. And Hamas surrenders.

I want to bring in Sara Sidner now live from southern Israel.

You know, this really does show that the people in Israel seem united behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Israeli Jews who were polled, 87 percent and 86.5 percent respectively, in two different polls that have happened over the past week say that they do want this to continue. They are behind the war effort, behind Netanyahu's push into Gaza.

I want to give you some idea of what's happening here. We're standing on the Israeli/Gaza border. You can actually see plumes of smoke that have been coming up. We've been hearing the baritone booms of the attacks on the tunnels as well. We also know from Israel this morning that 15 rockets have been fired towards Israel. Some of them according to the Israel Defense Forces have fallen in Gaza. Not made it over the border. Seven have no injury at this point.

We have been listing to artillery fire close to us going from Gaza as well. That is the latest from the border here. There has been also some political movement, Israel, we heard from them moments ago, very disappointed with the move from Brazil to take its ambassador out of Israel, remove its ambassador. Very unhappy, Brazil, with what they're seeing Israel do in Gaza.

They also had said, Israel, that Chile is considering doing the same thing. We know that Israel's extremely disappointed as Israel has said they need their friends closer now more than ever, John.

BERMAN: Sara, you see the world opinion in some places turning against Israel. Some places now the South America nations pulling their ambassadors. But again, when you poll the public opinion inside of Israel it does seem to be a different story.

SIDNER: Yes. I mean, that is what you're hearing from the Israeli Jewish population. I did have some conversation with some Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship, they are not happy with what they're seeing. You also see those poll numbers among the Israeli Jews that there is more than 10 percent who say they don't like what they're seeing. A full 87 and 86.5 percent in two separate polls are supporting Netanyahu's war effort -- John.

BERMAN: Important distinctions there. Sara Sidner for us on the border between Israel and Gaza. Thanks so much, Sara.

ROMANS: All right. Turning now to the crisis in Ukraine. The West unleashing a one-two punch aimed directly at Russia's economy. The E.U. imposing new sanctions on Russia. Limiting access to the capital market. The U.S. quickly following suit targeting key sectors of Russia's economy.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made. There continues to be a better choice, the choice of de-escalation, the choice of joining the world in a diplomatic solution to this situation.


BERMAN: Question this morning, will these sanctions work?

Let's bring in Nic Robertson live from Moscow.

And many people in the markets, Nic, are saying they may very well work. They may hurt the Russian economy, but will they change Putin's strategy. That's the big question.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is. He's due to meet with the government right around now. We can expect some comments probably on this issue.

But so far, the Russian institutions that are being affected like the oil sector, they're being targeted by some sanctions as well that would limit access to technologies to develop new oil fields, they're saying simply, what will work efficiently and we'll change around the time line of our planning.

One of the banks here that's being affected as well saying it's not going to affect us. The VTB Bank, Russia's second largest lender now it is being hit, 2 percent off their shares when they opened this morning. Another 3 percent already down today.

But the political message that's emerging here. The deputy prime minister, for example, talking about the sanctions on the arms industry here says this just shows how worried the west is about the building of Russia's navy right now. So, the political ability to withstand it is quite strong.

And one of the reasons it's quite strong here is because President Putin pretty much controls all the media here. And since the crisis began in east of Ukraine, his popularity rating has just climbed and climbed. There's really no incentive for him right now to buckle to these sanctions.

But they are escalating, and $500 billion worth of business done between Russia and Europe. There's a lot at stake. But he does seem to have a big margin to withstand there for a while, Christine.

ROMANS: Yes, and the Russian economy has already been hurting could indeed be in recession, or heading for a recession. It allows Putin to blame the West at some point if the economy really struggles -- blame the West, instead of blaming his own failing policy. So, he has that in his pocketbook, too.

Nic Robertson, thank you for that, Nic.

BERMAN: While this is going on, a team of international investigators still being thwarted in their attempt to reach the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines Fight 17. There is heavy fighting in that area. The Ukrainian military trying to seize back the region from the pro- Russian rebels. Defense officials in Ukraine insist that the investigators will be allowed to access the crash site only when the area is safe and under Ukraine's control.

There's little hope, it seems, of recovering any more of the wreckage or human remains anytime soon.

Ivan Watson is tracking the latest developments live from Kiev this morning.

Frustrating for these investigators, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And they have been very open about that frustration and disappointment. It's been about 2 1/2 hours, John, since a reconnaissance team from the international monitors mission in the rebel-held city of Donetsk left. We're waiting to hear back whether they think that there could be in open and safe road to reach the crash site, which is is about an hour an hour and a half's drive east of Donetsk.

Of course, what has blocked the monitoring mission which had been making daily visits to the crash site is the fierce fighting. The Ukrainian military offensive against a number of key towns on the main road from that rebel-held city of Donetsk to the crash site. The Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian military saying that its goal is to try to capture these sprawling debris fields where the Malaysian Airlines plane went down nearly two weeks ago, with the deaths of at least 298 innocent civilians resulting from that, that they're trying to capture that so that it can ensure that the investigators can reach the site.

Of course, we have to point out that the international commission led by the Dutch, the Malaysians, the Australians, who had the most casualties on board the plane. They have last weekend achieved a deal with the separatists who had been in charge of the site to allow them free access. So, in effect, it is the Ukrainian military offensive that is blocking the investigators from being able to reach the site in addition to this. The fighting is quite fierce. The city of Donetsk controlled by the

separatists in the surrounding areas we're hearing, at least 13 people killed by fighting there within the last 24 hours.

And a senior military source confirming to CNN that cruise missiles have been fired by the Ukrainian military, as recently as Monday, against the strategic heights of the scene of fierce fighting, an area that's about 45 minutes, half an hour's drive from the Malaysian Air crash site itself. That's a surface-to-surface missile with a 1,000- pound warhead, capable of fly something 50 miles, just an example of the escalation in the kind of weapons being used in this conflict, in relatively close proximity to the area where Malaysian Air Flight 17 went down, the area where these Australian and Dutch investigators are desperate to get to -- their top priority, recovering some of the dozens of bodies of passengers still missing, recovering some of the belongings and returning them to the anguished families of the victims.

And clearly, the priority of Ukrainian government and of the separatists: to try to defeat each other on the field of battle. How you can reconcile these two priorities, I just don't know.

BERMAN: Does not seem reconcilable just now. Ivan Watson for us in Kiev -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Time for an EARLY START on your money.

Europe stocks lower after U.S. and Europe imposed new sanctions against Russia. The Russian economy barely grow. How will that hurt? Asian stocks ended the day a little bit lower as well.

U.S. futures, though, leaning higher. Stocks I guess you could say they barely budged this week. But news later this morning on how strong the economy in this country grew in the second quarter could change that.

The big mover this morning, Twitter, the company still does not make any money. But the shares soaring 27 percent in free market trade. Twitter reported strong user growth, especially in mobile. That's good news for Twitter in what otherwise has been a pretty tough year. Shares down 40 percent this year thanks to slow growth. Twitter lost if you're counting $145 million last quarter.

BERMAN: Someone's counting.

All right. Ebola is coming it seems dangerously close to the United States. Airlines shutting down routes as we learned just how close an infected American came to bringing the virus on to U.S. soil. The story next.


BERMAN: The Ebola crisis widening in West Africa. ASKY, which is a major airline in that region, has stopped flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone. This is amid growing fears about spreading the virus. U.N. figures now put the death toll at 672. Among them, Dr. Sheik

Umar Khan. He had been leading the charge to fight this outbreak until he contracted the virus himself. He's the second doctor to succumb to Ebola in just the last few days.

Now, U.S., it seems, may have dodged something of a bullet here. We learned that the American citizen who died Ebola on his way back to the United States. Patrick Sawyer had flown from Liberia to Nigeria before returning to the U.S. he got sick before his flight to the U.S.


PAUL GARWOOD, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: He apparently arrived in Lagos, I understand, by plane. He left -- he departed on the plane initially with no symptoms. He reported being symptomatic on arrival. So, I understand he was vomiting, and he then turned himself basically over -- he made it known that he wasn't feeling well.


BERMAN: There is no known cure for Ebola which is transferred through bodily fluids.

ROMANS: All right. Here in the U.S., crews trying to repair the damage from a massive pipe break that flooded the campus of UCLA and the surrounding areas. Look.


ROMANS: John Berman didn't believe this.

BERMAN: I can't believe this.

ROMANS: The rupture of a 90-year-old water main sent a geyser shooting 30 feet in the air made a raging river of Sunset Boulevard. Fire and police officials trying to stop -- oh, come on, college kids from playing in the water.


JAMIE MOORE: This is extremely dangerous. This is exactly what we're afraid of. We had some who were in the water, they got swept off their feet. With the current that was pushing, they got trapped underneath their car. Our swift water rescue team pulled them out and rescued them.

So this isn't something we want to go and play and have a good time in the water. There's a lot of debris there. The ground has been undermined. It's very, very dangerous.


ROMANS: Millions of gallons of water flooded UCLA's athletic facilities and parking structures that took the brunt of the damage.

BERMAN: You can see people on Twitter saying this was actually pretty scary when this happened. The water was going out of control up there.

ROMANS: And dangerous.

BERMAN: Some weather to tell you about, wildfires, floods and a rare summer chill -- extreme weather from coast to coast. Indra Petersons is tracking what you can expect today. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: All right. This is Yosemite National Park. You're looking at about 3,000 acres of it on fire this morning. Right now, the flames are limiting access to the park and threatening a grove of giant redwoods. Nearly 20 percent of the fire's perimeter is contained. Some evacuated residents thankfully are being allowed back in their homes.

ROMANS: Severe flooding north of Denver, one day after tornadoes, up to five inches of rain falling in a few hours, triggering flash flood warnings or watches. Residents being warned to prepare for possible mudslides today.

BERMAN: This bizarre summer weather is because of Indra Petersons, who is here with us today.


ROMANS: She's going to tell you to put on a sweater.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: But you know what? Seriously, we're talking about 40s in the upper Midwest right now. I mean, that's really weird. You're talking about July kind of going in through August right now, right? We're talking 48 degrees currently.

And notice this cool air, this isn't just like hanging out in the upper and Upper Midwest. We're talking about even down in the South, temperatures in the 50s if you're waking up in Nashville.

So, kind of a nice break after that hot and humid weather. But, you know, I like summer as long as they last. But regardless, we're talking about cool weather all the way into the Southwest. This is the pattern we're actually going to be sticking with over the next several days -- stationary front hanging around. That's why we call it a stationary front, right. Showers around the southeast. Stationary, there you go. Easy.

Then, we're talking about upper Midwest. Kind of tricky here, a little pesky. We're looking at a couple showers rotating through. So, still generally nice, but here and there, even as we go through the weekend, we're still going to be talking about showers making their way through, scattered showers in the forecast.

Generally speaking, though, temperatures staying below normal. We're talking in the northeast all the way down even to the South. So, it feels good. It's just a little bit of that mixed bag, rain and mild when it's summer and it was a rough winter. So, I don't care, I want hot and humid right now. ROMANS: Yes, I know. I'm with you.

All right. Thanks, Indra.


BERMAN: Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

War raging in Gaza. Israel increasing attacks as Hamas shoots down hopes of a cease-fire. We're live in Gaza after the break.