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Shot Down of Flight MH-17; Crisis in the Israel

Aired July 20, 2014 - 06:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. It is 6:00 right now here in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY. We of course want to welcome our viewers here in the U.S. and our viewers joining us around the world.

PAUL: First thing this morning we're learning large numbers of bodies that may be victims of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are now being retrieved and collected.

BLACKWELL: CNN team on the ground in eastern Ukraine says the bodies are being put on to refrigerated train cars. This is at a station near the crash site, of course. International observers say they have been told these bodies are from the downed flight but they cannot independently confirm that. And they say the trains will remain there at the station in place until international specialists arrive.

A Ukrainian searcher said earlier today that they had found 196 bodies at the crash site. Of course we know the total number of those on board, 298.

PAUL: So still 102 people missing.


PAUL: This comes as Malaysia Airlines is tweeting that it's retiring Flight MH-17 as of July 25th. It says it's doing so in respect for the 298 passengers and crew who were on board that plane that was shot down Thursday over eastern Ukraine.

BLACKWELL: Now Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is coming under growing international pressure over the crash of Flight 17.

PAUL: In fact in a front page editorial in Britain's "Sunday Times" headlines, "This is an outrage made in Moscow," Prime Minister Cameron says, quote, "The growing weight of evidence points to a clear conclusion that Flight MH-17 was blown out of the sky by a surface-to- air missile fired from a rebel held area."

He adds, "If this is the case this is a direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them," unquote.

BLACKWELL: And he's not the only one with strong words. Other world leaders also speaking out and they say Russia must act now or face the consequences.


TONY ABBOT, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: When you have a situation where Russian-backed rebels appear to have killed Australians using it may well turn out to be Russian-supplied heavy weaponry, Australia takes a very dim view indeed and we want the fullest possible investigation.

MARK RUTTE, DUTCH PRIME MINISTER (Through Translator): I'm late for this news conference because I just had an intense telephone conversation with the Russian president. I told him that he has one last chance to show the world he means to help. He must take responsibility now towards the rebels and show to the Netherlands and the world he does what is expected.


BLACKWELL: And Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian foreign prime minister -- sorry, Russian Foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. He told him that Moscow must get the rebels to lay down weapons and allow investigators to complete access -- and get complete access to that crash site.

PAUL: Yes, Ukraine's foreign minister also says Russia needs to use its influence over the rebels. Listen to this.


PAVLO KLIMKIN, UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER: Now is of course about the group talking to the terrorists but it is of course about understanding how to put pressure on the terrorists and it's up to international community to put relevant pressure on Russia because the main back of the terrorists and the majority of the terrorist leaders are Russians.


BLACKWELL: So let's bring Phil Black back in. He is there at the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

PAUL: Phil, so glad to have you with us. We're hearing about the bodies being loaded on to these refrigerated train cars, wondering, though, you know, what you are seeing at the scene and how it compares the crash site now to what you saw yesterday.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Christi. Let me just talk you through what's happening here immediately behind me. I just want to show you this. And I think it's a very good illustration of precisely who is in control.

You can see those men with the weapons. They are members of the pro- Russian militant groups. They are here today and you can see they are pushed back a line of control here, pushed all the international media back to this point. That is because they, this particular group of militants is traveling with the -- the observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who are traveling across various sites around the crash impact zone today.

This is their security detail effectively. Our own colleague Chris Cuomo is traveling with that observer delegation as well. And it is from Chris that we've learned that yes, the bodies that have been removed and a lot of them have been removed over the last 24 hours from the site, have been taken to a train station a short distance from here, only a few miles, where they are now being stored in refrigerated cars.

And it is that location they are expected to remain until more expert investigators arrive here on the scene. And I guess that is a point that is worth making for all the change that we have seen here at the site over the last day or so, and it has been considerable. As I say a lot of the visible bodies are now gone. We are not yet seeing that expert investigative presence coming here locking down this zone and really beginning that forensic examination to try and determine precisely what happened here.

BLACKWELL: Phil, it's a pretty striking image to see those men lined up there right behind you. When we spoke with you last hour, you told us that the vehicles were not allowed beyond that line but journalists, international journalists on foot were allowed to go in.

Is there any explanation as to why they've now pushed the line thus far exactly where you're standing?

BLACK: I think it is the presence of this observer team. That's what -- that is essentially what this detail behind me is responsible for, they arrived with the observer team, and I guess we'll get -- we'll know fairly shortly whether they are going to leave with the observer team. But there is no doubt that the level of control has been expanding outwards. Access to the site has been coming increasingly more restricted. But it's incremental, as you can see we are still just there, pretty close, to areas of the impact zone here.

It is not of the standard that you would expect for a full-blown investigation into a disaster of this nature. So improvements here on the ground. But in terms of control and activity by the emergency workers who are coordinating the recovery effort for the victims' bodies. But there is still a really long way to go.

PAUL: Phil, you know, Victor said it best, said it's a striking image of all of those men behind you, standing there with their weapons. Can you give us a sense of what it's like for you to be there? I mean, do you feel the tension? Do you feel nervous at all?

I mean, we're trying to understand the sense of things there.

BLACK: Sure. One of the issues that I know we've been talking about is the fact that it depends on who you meet at what time of day and what type of territory. The pro-Russian militants can vary in their attitude and approach and level of discipline. Particularly towards members of the Western media, particularly towards representatives of an American organization.

And we've seen that evolve not just since this accident but from the earlier days of this uprising here in the east of Ukraine. We spend a lot of time in this country in recent months. In the early days of the armed uprising there was often quite a degree of anger and hostility from militants toward members of the Western press.

In recent days we've seen that -- I think we've seen a very different attitude on the whole. It has been more supportive but that is not universal by any means. It does depend upon who you meet at what time and where because they range in their level of training, their level of discipline and the degree to which they are prepared to follow to the rule, the absolute leadership of the individuals that are ruling, the pro-Russian militant groups.

So certainly there can be tension. Particularly at checkpoints. Again, you never quite know who you're going to meet. But on the whole in recent days, particularly since this disaster, they have generally been more supportive. But one message they have been very keen to make to us when we talk to them, and that is they are not willing to put down their arms. They still want to fight.

BLACKWELL: Phil, we see maybe a half dozen of these rebel fighters behind you. We know that at least the search area, and it's called the biggest crime scene in the world, but the search area essentially is 13 square miles, 34 square kilometers. To have control of that area how many of these fighters are there? Is the leadership giving you any idea of how deep their ranks are?

BLACK: It does vary, because it is such a wide area. You can visit areas that are clearly part of the crash site because there is the presence of debris. But you see no presence whatsoever of these pro- Russian fighters.

At the main impact zones, that is where it is most obvious. But even then it is pretty light. I think most of that security presence from the militant groups is at the checkpoints on the roads leading into this location. At the site itself the biggest presence is from the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry workers. These are the people that ultimately answerable to the central government in Kiev.

They are here in the hundreds, we're told, across this area but still a relatively small group. They are the ones that I think have increasing authority here on the ground. They are the ones that are really pushing out this area of control that we've been talking about. But they are still being supervised by small numbers of the men we've got. So they make it very clear that they get to do and they are working there with their permission under their supervision and so forth.

So it is a complex hierarchy, if you like, but what we have seen today certainly I think are the emergency workers expanding their control, expanding their authority, and increasingly limiting access to these main impact zone areas.

PAUL: All right. Boy, Phil Black, thank you so much for bringing us that scene. A very different one than what we saw just one hour ago.

BLACKWELL: Yes. PAUL: You all do take care there.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Phil.

PAUL: And we'll be talking to Phil again throughout the next few hours. But CNN is going to have so much more on this multinational investigation into the crash of MH-17. Secretary of State John Kerry, in fact, joining Candy Crowley on "STATE OF THE UNION" today at 9:00 a.m. Eastern so hope you can be here for that.

BLACKWELL: Well, kids and moms, dads, grandparents, as we reported, all among the victims of this Malaysia Airlines crash. Family members are now running out of patience. They want answers and they want their loved ones returned.

PAUL: Plus, hundreds are injured in heavy shelling overnight in Gaza. We're going to head live with you to the war zone.


BLACKWELL: It's being called hell on earth. A neighborhood to the east of Gaza City is being rocked by near constant stream of shelling, also bombing coming from Israeli forces.

PAUL: Can you imagine living in that? That is the sound of a rocket flying overhead. And you saw the terror on the faces of those who are on the ground there.

At least 40 people were killed there overnight. People fleeing the area say bodies are just lying in the streets. And the intensity of the attack mean ambulances can't even reach everyone who needs help.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to CNN senior correspondent Ben Wedeman, he's near the scene of those attacks.

Ben, I can see you in a monitor just up here. And you just ducked. What's going on?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It appears that some sort of warning rocket was fired in a building just about -- I'd say 300 to 250 yards behind me. That usually means that perhaps within the next few minutes a much larger missile will be fired. And this is really been going on much of the morning. And this part of Gaza is actually calm compared to what's going on in the Shijaiyah neighborhood behind me where there are still plumes of thick black smoke rising from that area.

By my calculation, the bombardment has been going on for about 15 hours and there's still many -- there were many people in that area. But this morning I saw thousands of people streaming out of that part of town, coming to the relative safety, and I stress the relative safety of Gaza. Many of them carrying small children, some with plastic bags with a minimum of possessions. They could keep. They were staying in their homes until the sun rose. Now, according to Palestinian medical sources, at least 40 people killed overnight in that shelling. More than 400 wounded. But that's just a preliminary number.

Ambulances cannot reach those areas within Shijaiyah, which has been so badly hit that the firing is still going on. It's expected the number is going to increase much more dramatically. So really, the last 48 hours here in Gaza we've seen sort of constant bombing, constant bombardment. A death toll increasing by the hour at the hospital they told my colleague Karl Penhaul, that they are running out of medicine, they're running out of supplies.

The doctors are really stretched to the limit. They are trying to send the wounded to other hospitals in Gaza. But no road is safe in Gaza. There is not a square inch in Gaza where anyone can be assured they're not going to be harmed.

Now many people who fled Shijaiyah have gone to U.N. schools, more and more are opening up. Yesterday we were told by the U.N. that 62,000 people had sought refuge in U.N. schools but that number clearly has increased by thousands as people flee that neighborhood behind me.

PAUL: Ben, real quickly, we hear so much about the civilian death toll there. Do we know if anybody from Hamas has been killed or injured?

WEDEMAN: Well, overnight in the Shijaiyah neighborhood the son of a Hamas leader was killed. Now the Israelis are saying that they have killed 70 Hamas members. That's the number on the ground here, it's very hard to ascertain.

I mean, what's interesting, I have been in Gaza when there have been -- there has been street fighting between the Israelis and various other Palestinian groups. Not just Hamas. And this time around you see nobody in the street. I have not seen one man who you could clearly identify as a Hamas fighter. They are keeping a very low profile. But as I said, the Israelis are saying 70 but it's not altogether clear how many have actually been killed.

PAUL: All right. Ben Wedeman, do stay safe, please. You and your crew there.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Ben.

PAUL: Thank you so much.

BLACKWELL: And we're going to have more on the crisis in Gaza later in the show. Wolf Blitzer will interview Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in our 8:00 a.m. Eastern hour, just shy of two hours from now. Also, again, Secretary of State John Kerry is Candy Crowley's guest on "STATE OF THE UNION". That's at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

PAUL: The investigation into what happened to Flight MH-17 is still so many questions when it comes to this. Russian rebels are hampering that probe, we know. We're talking about the chaos and the confusion at the site. That's just ahead.

BLACKWELL: Plus, unbelievable twists, the stories of people who should have been on that doomed flight. When I say should they at least had tickets to that flight. And now they are counting their blessings.


BLACKWELL: Well, you saw just a few moments ago at the top of the show with CNN correspondent Phil Black the scene very tense there at the crash site. Armed militia members escorting international monitors all over the site, well, in some areas of the site, we know at least.

Let's bring in CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo and CNN law enforcement analysts Tom Fuentes.

PAUL: Yes, Mary, I want to start with you and good morning to both of you. But, Mary, have you -- I mean, have you ever seen a crash scene like this where militia are preventing monitors from the investigation?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, no. I mean I've seen crash scenes that look like this but not where armed guards are pointing their weapons at persons who are there to perform their jobs and take care of the crash scene. It seems to me that the wrong people are staring down the barrel of a gun. So no, I have never seen a crash scene like this. Usually the persons are being protected are doing the work, so it's shocking. It's just utterly shocking.

BLACKWELL: All right. Tom, the important questions about Russia's role here. The foreign minister, Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov said that Russia wants an independent investigation and they are willing to make a contribution. What if any contribution will Russia offer to this independent investigation?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Good morning, Victor and Christi. That's a very good question what they are going to offer or which investigative agencies would even be allowed to eventually come in there by these rebels holding the territory.

I think that when you have every major Western government starting with the United States and now Australia and the Netherlands and others, basically saying you rebels did this with at least some support from the Russian federation and oh, by the way, allow our investigators to go to the crime scene so that we can obtain the evidence of your guilt, I think it's going to be difficult for most of these countries including the U.S., including the European agencies, including Australia, that have the expertise to, you know, be able to be seen by these rebels and by Russia as independent transparent investigators.

You know, there -- it's going to be hard to find the expertise worldwide that's not involved with this, with victims from their own country.

PAUL: Tom, would you assume that perhaps President Putin may give a scapegoat to this investigation? That maybe he's got somebody in, you know, the rebel forces.

BLACKWELL: The Navy willing to sacrifice. PAUL: That he's willing to sacrifice or put out there to try to get

the attention in the spotlight off of himself?

FUENTES: That's a great question. You know, you would have thought that he might have done that earlier to get the pressure off to do that.

PAUL: By now.

FUENTES: The only problem with that from his standpoint probably is he doesn't want to show that he controls the people on the ground in eastern Ukraine. So he's trying to in one sense keep a distance and say look, I had nothing to do with this. The Russians had nothing to do with this. These guys are on their own. So if he exercises too much control here he just proves his own statements.

BLACKWELL: Mary, there is this statement that was released by the spokesperson for the State Department, Jen Psaki. And she said that -- she cites reports of parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away.

What's your concern now going into day three, day four of this, that the international community is not moving fast enough, if they want this independent investigation, the evidence possibly is disappearing.

SCHIAVO: Well, that's right. And both Ukraine and Russia have long history of cooking the books in investigation. For example, when Ukraine shot down a Siberian commercial plane full of civilians, you know, they initially admitted it and paid reparations that was back in 2001, and then when it went to court they denied it. They said well, no, nothing to do with it. By the way, they wouldn't even pay tor the plane.

And then we look at the former Soviet Union, Russia, in the investigation of KL-007. They actively thwarted people, the United States, Korea and others, looking for the plane. In that case it was in the water and put out fake pingers to throw off the searchers, tried to ram search boats, so both have a history of not delivering clean investigation. And so I think that's why the world needs to be suspect and put pressure on them.

PAUL: We've been hearing, Mary, that they are waiting for experts to come in. We see that some of them are there now. And at the scene we saw those rebels again with their guns. How much security do you believe those experts will have? Because if you've got them coming in with men behind them with guns, and you've got men waiting with guns, that seems like you're starting -- you could set certainly incendiary situation up there but you can't send those guys in without security, right?

SCHIAVO: At this point absolutely not. You cannot send them without security. And you know, in a situation like this what they have to do is they have to go in very quickly and they have to go in quietly. If I was on the team working this crash I would -- I would keep everything, all the findings close to the vest, and what they have to do is just document as fast as they can because I suspect what's going to happen is they're going to be given limited access, maybe a few hours a day, maybe -- you know, maybe a few days or a week or two.

So they're going to have to work very quickly and they're going to have to look for key pieces. Pieces like the tail part that probably have traces of the explosive device on that tail. The bodies have been removed. They would have traces of it, too, including the metal -- probably the metal piercings from the missile. But they are going to have to be strategic and use a scalpel because I doubt they're going to have a long time to fully scrub the site and preserve all evidence.

BLACKWELL: Tom, under these circumstances considering all that's happening, is this the best way to conduct this, just hope that you get an hour and a half this day, hope you get three hours tomorrow? There are always statements that are coming out from around the world, why are people I guess following the rules of these few hundred militia members? Is this the way it's supposed to happen?

FUENTES: No. It's not how it's supposed to happen but the few hundred militia members have guns and everybody else involved doesn't. And also it's being generous to call the people experts that are at the scene. The European team are observers, they are not qualified crime scene investigators, so they are not in a position to gather evidence. And even if a team goes in that gets the evidence, yes, those plane was shot down by such and such missile, we found the trace evidence of the explosives, they are never going to find out in my opinion who pushed the button.

I think there will be enough obstruction from the rebels and the Russian federation that that degree of chain of evidence I don't think is going to be established.

BLACKWELL: All right. Mary Schiavo, Tom Fuentes, yes, unbelievable circumstances in this situation here. Thank you both for joining us.

PAUL: Thank you. Thank you.

FUENTES: You're welcome.

BLACKWELL: Well, nearly 300 people lost their lives in the downing of Flight MH-17. Again at the center of this, this ism, as many have reminded us a human tragedy. The majority of the dead from Amsterdam. What some of the families there are demanding this morning.