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U.S. Detects Russian Troops on Ukraine Border; Gaza, Israel Death Toll Tops 700; Monitors Get Full Access to Crash Site; FAA Extends Ban on Flights to Israel; Interview with Mark Regev

Aired July 23, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report.

Day of mourning -- remains of Malaysia Flight 17 victims are returned to the Netherlands as the U.S. learns about new information about troop movements in the area where the plane was shot down.

Defiant flight -- the former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, flies into Tel Aviv in a show of support, as the U.S. extends its ban on flights to Israel's main airport. My interview with Michael Bloomberg coming up.

Raging war -- Israel launches fresh air strikes in Gaza, Hamas unleashes new rocket attacks, while diplomats work desperately to try to halt the fighting.

Are they on the verge of a cease-fire?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two major breaking news stories in the world's spotlight right now.

The war between Israel and Hamas now in its 16th day and the growing diplomatic pressure to end the fighting that has already claimed more than 700 lives.

Also, new developments in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, including victims' remains returned to the Netherlands and new intelligence about what's happening on the ground in Ukraine and in Russia.

We have CNN's global resources on both stories.

Our correspondents are standing by, so are our guests, for the kind of coverage you won't find anywhere else. Let's begin with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's working the Flight 17 story for us -- you've got new information,.


What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tens of thousands of Dutch citizens having the sad honor of standing watch for the fallen of Flight 17.


STARR (voice-over): Sounding the call known as the last post, a centuries old military tradition that a fallen soldier's duty is over, now rest in peace. As if they fell on a battle field, the Dutch rendering full military honors, saluting the civilian victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Lining the roads, the people of the Netherlands making clear respect will be paid. Even the smallest citizens laying flowers.

As the solemn tribute continued, the accusations did not stop. The Ukrainian counterintelligence chief telling CNN's Kyung Lah he has no doubt the rebels knew they were firing at a passenger jet.

VITALY NAYDA, UKRAINE'S DIRECTOR OF INFORMATIONAL SECURITY: If they possess this kind of military weapons, like Buk-M1 automatic missile launcher, they should know that the plane is not a military plane. It's a big target. They should analyze and they should know that it was a civilian plane.

STARR: The United States laying the blame on Russia.

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: Responsibility lays at the feet of President Putin, not just for this, but for every incident that we have seen throughout this conflict.

STARR: Vladimir Putin's intentions on Ukraine's eastern border with Russia are unclear, as U.S. officials question moves by the rebels and their backers in Moscow.

U.S. intelligence is looking at whether these two Ukrainian Su-25s, shot down Wednesday, could have been brought down by surface to air missile fire from the Russian side of the border.

CNN has learned the latest U.S. intelligence indicates, in fact, some Russian troops have moved right to the border, giving them the ability to attack into Ukraine without entering the country, even as they continue to send tanks and artillery across into rebel-held territory. Intelligence also indicates some rebels have fled from their Ukrainian strongholds and gone back into Russia.

(END VIDEO TAPE) STARR: Now the U.S. calculates that the missile that hit Flight

17 perhaps flew for less than 10 seconds before it hit the plane.

So where are we?

If the Russians, indeed, are moving closer to the border, which U.S. intelligence believes they are, that puts their rockets, their artillery, in range of Ukraine territory. And, Wolf, it puts the region even more on a hair trigger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly does.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Thank you.

Let's get some more now.

Let's go to Eastern Ukraine.

CNN's Phil Black is on the scene for us -- Phil, we just heard about those two Ukrainian military jets shot down.

What are you picking up where you are?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what the leaders of the pro-Russian militants are telling us is that they shot down these two fighter aircraft, a short distance from the crash site of MH17. And they did it using shoulder mounted surface to air missiles.

The Ukrainian government has a different view. It says that these aircraft were flying at an altitude beyond the range of any shoulder mounted or mobile system. It says it has preliminary information suggesting that these weapons may have been fired across the border in Russia.

So, once again in this conflict, one event, two different versions.

But what it shows is that despite all the international outrage, really, toward the separatist forces over the downing of MH17, it has not deterred them or their willingness to take on and really launch surface to air attacks against Ukraine's air power -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil, what's the latest from the Malaysia Flight 17 crash site?

BLACK: It's an eerie sight out there, or it certainly was today. It looked effectively abandoned -- no militants, no investigators, no emergency workers, some journalists and some locals trying to get back to their normal lives, and, really, that's it. So no progress, really, in answering the key questions that still need to be answered.

And, crucially, I think, no further searching for more human remains or bodies. International leaders and officials have expressed concern that it is possible that there could still be more passengers' bodies out there that have yet to be found. And it is certainly possible. It is a wide search area. And the search that we've witnessed up until this point has not been particularly thorough -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black on the scene for us in Eastern Ukraine.

Thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the situation at the crash site.

Joining us is Michael Bociurkiw.

He's spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Explain what the OSCE's crash site access today was, if you could describe some pieces of interest you seem to have been able to uncover today for the investigators.


Thank you for having us back, Wolf.

Well, I don't want to contradict your correspondent, but there was activity out there today, not from the rebel side, but certainly from our side and, you know, the Malaysian side. We spent the whole day out there today. And we combed more area, I think, than we had ever before.

Yes, we did stop for quite some time at two or three pieces of fuselage which, if I can describe it this way, they bore characteristics that were not consistent with everything else we've seen, kind of shrapnel and hoses that were very, very bizarre. So the Malaysians took quite an interest in that. A lot of photographs were taken. We documented it carefully.

And then on the other side, Wolf, we -- we know our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We made an intentional effort today to keep a very keen eye out for any sign of human remains. We did only see, in one spot, some human remains and we noted that and told the rebel kind of escort about it.

And then, also, there were reports coming in tonight from journalists who had been out in the field that they perhaps have seen more bodies. So as a monitoring mission, our policy is to follow up those types of reports. And we will be doing that tomorrow with the Malaysian experts.

BLITZER: Do you know how many bodies have actually been recovered and how many still remain at that wreckage site, presumably?

BOCIURKIW: Wolf, we have no way of independently verifying that. When that train left, shortly before it left, we were told by the rebels in the vicinity of about 260 or 270. But at that time, we were very careful to say we have no way to verify that. So all we're going by is what we actually see. We -- we put the figures of what we actually saw in body bags at a few dozen. But, again, that was a very limited area.

Tomorrow, and for as many days as necessary, we will keep our eyes very widely open and travel as much territory as we can to spot that type of remains, because, you know, there is a lot of, Wolf, there's a lot of heavy debris still out there. And we're not quite sure what could be underneath. So we will do our best to -- to document that and...

BLITZER: I'm sure you will.

Let's not forget, 298 people were aboard that Malaysian aircraft.

You've also said that parts of the plane were actually hacked into, possibly with saws. Explain the state of the wreckage, what you -- what you and your team actually saw.

BOCIURKIW: Yes. Sure. That was about two days ago, when we were leaving one of the main impact sites. And, Wolf, this is where the cockpit and the forward section of the first class section actually came down and kind of pancaked very compactly.

But as we were leaving that site the other day, there were workers in uniform taking out a power saw and hacking into it quite invasively. And we took note of that. We reported on it.

And then also, Wolf, at the other main site, the site where the earth was really scorched by a lot of fuel that came down, that's where the wings came down, there was big parts of the fuselage that were propped up yesterday.

And, again, we noted that difference and we reported on it. And it will be for others to draw conclusions. But there were marked differences from when we first came here.

BLITZER: Do you think that that chaos, that horrible scene you saw, is actually going to jeopardize the entire investigation?

BOCIURKIW: Well, you know, at the beginning, there was chaos. And as Phil Black accurately described it, it was there calmness all over today, and even yesterday. It's like everyone picked up and left. There were no tents there anymore that they were using to, you know, manage the whole site. No activity going on except, you know, ourselves. We had about almost 15 people out there today. And we had the Malaysian experts with us.

But, no, we feel somewhat on our own right now. And, you know, as I've said many times, there are people far better placed and trained than we are to do this very specialized type of work.

And just quickly, Wolf, I will say, within our monitoring mission, over 40 different countries are presented. We do have former military, former law enforcement, human rights experts. So we will do what we can to help this process as much as possible.

BLITZER: We've spoken several times with the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who's really helped us appreciate what's going on. And Michael Bociurkiw, you've helped us, as well.

Keep up the good work.

Good luck to you and your entire OSCE team.

We'll stay in close touch with all of you.

Thank you very, very much.

Up next, the FAA extends the ban on U.S. airlines flying into Tel Aviv.

So why did the former city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, hop on one of the few remaining


I'll ask him.

Also, growing talk of a possible cease-fire here between Israel and Hamas. I'll get the latest from a spokesman from Hamas. Also, I'll speak with the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel.


BLITZER: We're here in Jerusalem covering day 16 of the war between Israel and Hamas and the FAA ban on U.S. airlines flying into and out of Israel's main airport. That would be Ben Gurion International Airport just outside of Tel Aviv. It's now been extended to a second day.

CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh is working the story for us. She's back in Washington.

Rene, what are you finding out?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in short, the FAA still believes the situation on the ground in Israel is dangerous, and there is no clear indication tonight as to when the agency will lift the ban on U.S. flights there.


MARSH (voice-over): Sirens in Tel Aviv near Ben Gurion Airport shortly after the U.S. extends its ban on flights and a day after another rocket hit less than a mile away. Today's attack intercepted, but U.S. flights there grounded for another day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The rocket landed very close to the airport, and I think if you were a passenger on an airliner taking off or landing at that airport, you'd be pretty nervous about that.

MARSH: The FAA's official reason, hazards created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza. The danger, evident to passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I came to fly and my flight is delayed and then it was canceled, and then there was a bomb alarm. The whole airport rushed into the bomb shelters.

MARSH: The majority of European airlines also suspending flights.

Hamas calls it a victory saying, quote, "The resistance success in stopping the air traffic and isolating Israel from the world is a great victory for the resistance and a destruction of the enemy's dignity."

But Israel insists the airport is safe and has lobbied to reverse the FAA's ban on flights.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think this decision only rewards the Hamas terrorists for nothing.

MARSH: Not all flights are canceled. El Al still flying from the U.S. Onboard one flight in a show of solidarity, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

El Al, unlike any American passenger plane, is prepared for missile attack with defensive systems. Even if the FAA lifted the ban today, some airlines like Delta would not necessarily resume flights.

RICHARD ANDERSON, CEO, DELTA AIRLINES: We're going to need concrete information from our government that lets us draw an independent conclusion and keeping with our much higher duty of care that it is going to be safe.

MARSH: But one Italian airline shows there could be another option. Using a different airport like Uvda, 150 miles to the south. Today, 14 air flights shifted there from Tel Aviv.


MARSH: We are still trying to find out if landing at a different airport in Israel is something that the FAA would allow. We have asked the agency what it would take to lift the ban. No clear answer to that tonight. It would only say that it is monitoring the situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. That other airport just north of Israel, the southern city of Eliat. All right. Thanks very much, Renee.

At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, just a few hours ago, the leader of Hamas emphatically rejected a full cease-fire unless Israel lifted its blockade of Gaza. The Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, he was there, and he's joining us now, live from Doha, Qatar, once again.

Mr. Hamdan, thanks very much for joining us. Are you ready to accept a humanitarian cease-fire right now with no strings attached, deal with some of the other demands down the road? OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: Well, Wolf, it's clear that Hamas

declared from the first day that we are ready to deal with the cease- fire for humanitarian reasons and that happened twice. And on both times, Israelis violated that at the end of the time.

Six hours they violated that cease-fire after five hours, and the second time for hours and they violated it after 12 hours. But we are ready for that.

The idea -- the important idea we are talking about, there is an Israeli attack, killing the Palestinians by bombs and killing the Palestinians by siege. We want to make a complete end for this attack on both levels. This is the idea of the cease-fire, including the lift of the siege.

BLITZER: Now, if there is a humanitarian cease-fire agreement, will you stop launching rockets and missiles into Israel?

HAMDAN: Well, in both times before, the United Nations talked to Hamas directly, and we accepted their offer. And I want to remind you, the first time I told you that we have some questions, there were answers. And then we said yes. On the same conditions and terms we said yes directly for the second time.

If there was a direct contact with Hamas and they are under the same conditions, I don't think that there would be any problem for Hamas to say yes.

BLITZER: So where does the Egyptian proposal for an immediate cease-fire stand right now? As you know, the Egyptians put forward a plan. The Israelis say they accept it. Do you accept that Egyptian proposal?

HAMDAN: Well, we've said clearly, and we've informed the Egyptians that this proposal is not accepted by all the Palestinian resistance movements, and that was informed also to Abu Mazen.

Yesterday there was a meeting for the Palestinian political leadership, for the PLO leadership, and they declared the position insisting to lift the siege at the same time of the cease-fire, which means now we are talking about a united Palestinian position. We have to have both together.

If that had been, regardless to who may offer that, they will accept it. And it is clear that we are not against the Egyptian rule. We've rejected some ideas, but that doesn't mean there was good ideas from Egypt we would reject it. We will accept any good ideas if it comes from Egypt or any other place.

BLITZER: Do you have a commitment from the new Egyptian government from President Al-Sisi and his top leadership that Egypt, in your words, will lift the siege. Because as you know, they've blockaded an entrance from Gaza into Egypt and into the Sinai.

HAMDAN: Well, there is no commitment from the Egyptian government and leadership and what we have heard from them all the time that the Israelis are responsible and in charge, if they have crossed a crossing point they will do that.

So there must be a commitment from the international community. The Israelis have to accept that, so there will be no excuse to close this point or any other closing point surrounding Gaza. We are not only talking about Hafa. We have other six crossing points between Gaza and the other side. We want them all open for the needs of the Palestinian people and their daily needs.

BLITZER: I guess the bottom-line question right now, given the concern that obviously Israelis have about Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv, is this: is Hamas deliberately trying to target Ben Gurion Airport with rockets and missiles?

HAMDAN: Well, it's clearly that we have troops declared a warning for the airlines to stop flying to the Ben Gurion Airport in order to prevent any civilian casualties. And I believe what had happened the last two days was a good sign for protecting the civilians from being attacked or harmed by what is going on.

It is clear that the Israelis now may understand what is the meaning of putting the Palestinian people under the siege. What is the meaning of preventing the people to go in and out. I hope that this can be a good message for Netanyahu to understand the meaning of the situation in Gaza under his siege and he can think logically and in a practical way.

BLITZER: So, I guess the question is are you targeting Ben Gurion Airport?

HAMDAN: Well, in fact, in this fight Ben Gurion Airport is used by military air jets, so it's targeted because it's used by the Israeli air forces.

BLITZER: One final question. I get this question from a lot of our viewers in the United States and around the world. Right now you're in Doha, Qatar. Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas, is also in Doha, Qatar. They keep asking me, maybe you can explain, why aren't you in Gaza with your fellow Palestinians?

HAMDAN: Well, as you know, the Palestinians were departed and kicked out from their country as refugees in 1948 by the Israeli soldiers and troops. And from that time, all of the Palestinians who became now around 10 million Palestinians outside Palestine are seeking to go back, but they are still prevented by Israel.

If we were allowed to go we would go directly. I think the Israelis are supposed to be asked this question, why that you are still preventing the Palestinian people to come home back? We are willing to come home back, and we are working for that. And hopefully, we'll be seeing as most of the civilians in Palestine.

BLITZER: Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas, joining us tonight once again from Doha, Qatar. Thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, we're going live to Gaza City where humanitarian relief workers came under fire today. And later, you won't want to miss my interview with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. He flew into Israel today to El Al to show his support for Israel.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: Hamas is trying to kill the Palestinians and kill the Israelis, and somebody's got to say that they've got to stop this. And then along comes the FAA, which I think made a mistake. I hope they'll rectify it soon.


BLITZER: Stay with us for the full interview, including his rather fiery answer when I asked him about suggestions, and allegations, including here in Israel, of possible political motives behind the FAA's flight ban.

Stay with us. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: We're live here in Jerusalem. Welcome back.

Humanitarian relief workers, they came under fire today in a rather heavily populated area of the Gaza Strip, the fighting rather intense once again today.

In the meantime, Hamas rockets and missiles continue coming into Israel.

Let's go to Gaza right now for the very latest. Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us.

Ben, what's going on?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been another bloody day here, Wolf. The death toll mounting to 693, well over 4,000 wounded. There was fighting in a variety of parts of Gaza Strip.

But we went to (INAUDIBLE) today with the Red Cross. Now, before we had gone in with relief workers when there was what was called a humanitarian cease-fire. The Red Cross went in today, but there was no cease-fire.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): They came to look for the living and the dead, but had to turn back under fire as did we. There's a sniper back there.

The Red Cross and the Palestinian Red Crescent entered the embattled Gaza city neighborhood of (INAUDIBLE). Red Cross veteran Larry Maibe cautiously confident they could do their job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up until now, I'm relatively comfortable with the security situation. I expect it might get a bit more difficult as we progress down this way. WEDEMAN: Israeli military has shelled this area almost around

the clock for more than four days as part of its offensive against Hamas. The rescue workers well aware they needed to tread carefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, this is making Nigeria (ph) nervous, OK? We don't want to make them nervous.

WEDEMAN: Some residents took advantage of their presence to retrieve possessions.

My brother's house is gone says this man, nobody there was a fighter and now we're homeless.

Ahmed Al-Halo fled before the fighting began. His house is now in ruins.

Do you see, he asks? They're hitting civilians. They didn't hit one of the fighters or any of their so-called military targets. Look at what they did. They destroyed the houses, the street and killed civilians.

Fireman Kamal Abu Assi tells me I've never seen destruction like this. They tried, but failed to retrieve either the living or the dead.

The shooting, it's not clear from whom, was too intense.

LARRY MAYBER, RED CROSS: Small arms fire is increasing in intensity and directed at us. I think the problem is there are too many people here. Too many civilians. If it was just us, it might be different. So we're coming back. There are two people trapped in rubble, wounded. I want to try to go in on foot to get those two before we go back.

WEDEMAN: Did you find anybody?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. There is the front line there and there is a serious fire fight.


WEDEMAN: And, Wolf, it does appear that it was a little too risky for the Red Cross. They did pull out shortly afterwards -- Wolf.

Ben Wedeman on the scene for us in Gaza. Thanks, Ben, very, very much. Be careful over there.

Let's bring in Mark Regev now. He is the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


My pleasure.

BLITZER: When you see a report like that what goes through your mind?

REGEV: It's a tragedy. It's a very difficult situation. You have Hamas taking over a civilian neighborhood. What we saw were the pictures above ground, but below ground there is a whole system of tunnels where they store missiles, where they fire missiles at Israel with this command and control. They even have from that area, tunnels that go into Israel under the border so they can pop out on our side of the frontier with automatic weapons, explosives and rocket- propelled grenades and do rocket attacks and we had to go in there and deal with the very real threat.

The problem was we asked -- requested the civilian population to leave the area which we knew would become a combat zone. What did Hamas do? Hamas told people to stay. Hamas told people not to go. Hamas deliberately wanted to use the civilians there as human shield for its underground network of terror tunnels.

BLITZER: The prime minister, your Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with secretary of state John Kerry today. Is there any progress towards a cease-fire?

REGEV: Well, we're working hard. I mean, the goal is clear. The goal is to end terror attacks from Gaza into Israel. To end those rockets coming in on our city and as was reported some 70 rockets today from Gaza into Israel to end attacks through those tunnels, Palestinian terrorist, Hamas terrorists coming into Israel to try to kill our people. For us, ending this victory for us is just peace and quiet for our people. If that can be achieved through diplomacy, we'll embrace that.

BLITZER: It should be Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas. You heard Usama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas. They would accept this humanitarian cease-fire. But Israel, they argue it violates, they claim, violates those humanitarian cease-fire.

REGEV: Well, hardly for me to say that that's just not true. We've accepted every cease-fire proposal that was in place. We accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal for total and complete cease-fire which was supported by the Arab league.

You were with me that morning. Israel held fire for six hours and Hamas fired 50 rockets on Israel. They were clear in their words and their deeds they didn't support the cease-fire. For him to say otherwise is, frankly, ridiculous. We also accepted, Wolf. Humanitarian cease-fire supported by the U.N., supported by the Red Cross. Hamas violated those cease-fires.

BLITZER: What's your reaction to the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration back in Washington, D.C., for a second day now extending this ban on U.S. aircraft, U.S. airliners flying in and out of Israel?

REGEV: Well, I understand they've got -- they want to do their job. But we think they're mistaken. And my prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, went today to Ben Gurion international airport and he said if it's safe for me, it's safe for everyone. And the truth is planes were taking off, landing, one of them brought the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg to Israel, there is not a security problem at the airport.

We've had all of these rockets fired at Israel, but that airport is a uniquely protected facility, not one rocket. We've had 2,000 rockets in Israel and not one rocket has landed on the terminal or on the runway. That airport is safe because Israel takes airline security and airport security very, very seriously.

BLITZER: You heard Usama Hamdan tell me just a few minutes ago, they are targeting Ben Gurion airport with their rockets and missiles because Israeli military aircraft use that airport as well.

REGEV: Are we supposed to believe that Hamas only targets military targets? But first, why is Hama on the terror list on the United States government, of Canada, of Australia, of the European Union, of Japan and of others? Why have all of these international organizations and countries officially declared Hamas a terrorist organization? Because it targets civilians. Not once, not twice, but over the last 20 years, Hamas has been directly responsible for the most gruesome atrocities against civilian. That's why it's a terrorist organization. And when Hamas spokesman say with this (INAUDIBLE), they don't target civilians. Guess what? They're not telling the truth.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, thanks very much for joining us.

REGEV: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Much more news coming up. We are going to follow all of the breaking news with what's going on, including the spontaneous outpouring of grief in the Netherlands as the first bodies of Malaysia airlines crash victims arrive for identification.

And right at the top of the hour, my interview with the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. He gets sort of agitated when I ask him one specific question. You'll see the entire interview. That's coming up.


BLITZER: It's a National Day of Mourning in the Netherlands where the first set of victims' remains from Malaysia Flight 17 arrived in an emotional ceremony. Thousands of people lined the streets as dozens of hearses drove the coffins to a military base.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is in the Dutch city of Hilversum.

Erin, so what's next in this awful, grueling process?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And tomorrow we expect 74 more caskets to arrive at this military base in the Dutch town of Hilversum. They'll drive through those gates and be brought to the medical center inside for the beginning of the verification process. Some 74 technicians will be there to greet the caskets. A team of 80 investigators, Dutch investigators, have already been interviewing family members, collecting things such as DNA, fingerprints, descriptions of bodies and dental records.

One family that I talked to told me that the entire process lasted four hours for them. They lost two boys to MH-17. They said it was incredibly emotional and the chief forensic investigator told me that it takes that long because they want to collect as much detailed information as possible. There's no room for error here and he said that the last thing they want to have to do is go back to the families to get more information.

And the Dutch really are experts at this. They actually established the international protocol for this type of forensic investigations. The very same team that is working here in the Netherlands while they were in the tsunami in 2005 identifying bodies there. So it's a meticulous, it's a precise process and it's currently under way here in Holland tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story it is indeed.

Erin McLaughlin on the scene for us. Erin, thank you very much.

Coming up, the latest from here in Israel including talk of a possible cease-fire as the death toll soars after more than two weeks of fighting.

Plus, more in the investigation into Malaysia Flight 17 and some disturbing new discoveries by international monitors who were combing the wreckage.


BLITZER: President Obama on Air Force One just arriving in Los Angeles. The president sticking with a schedule of Democratic Party fundraisers despite the crises around the world and the growing criticism he's getting from a lot of the Republicans.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He has the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in light of Russia's continued arming of the rebels, according to Obama administration concerns in Ukraine. A top White House official says the U.S. is considering expanding sanctions against Moscow, but there's no timetable and it's not at all clear how far the U.S. is willing to go.


ACOSTA (voice-over): With the president keeping a low profile, raising money for Democrats on the West Coast, his foreign policy critics have only gotten louder, calling on Mr. Obama to come down hard on Russia. SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I want the Russian

people to feel pain in response to the pain they have caused. I want to put sanctions on their economy so they understand that what Putin is doing is not good for them long-term.

ACOSTA: By contrast, the White House is responding with caution. The president's top aides note how some of these crises can be connected. The alleged rebel shootdown in Ukraine and the violence in Gaza have both prompted U.S. flight restrictions over Israel and created new worries about arming the opposition in Syria.

The White House is now even more leery of sending surface-to-air weaponry to the rebels there. A spokeswoman said, "We've always been concerned about the danger that those types of weapons could fall into the wrong hands or pose a risk to civil aviation."

As for Vladimir Putin, senior administration officials stress Russia's help is still needed to rein in Iran's nuclear program. But critics ask whether the White House is showing too much restrain.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I do think the administration is showing signs of a little bit of fatigue.

ACOSTA: Foreign policy analyst Michael O'Hanlon says the president needs some fresh ideas to deal with these crises.

O'HANLON: It's the president himself who is sending strong messages to his team., to his staff that he doesn't want to be very ambitious. And they are hearing that message and they're devising policies accordingly. It's time, frankly, for a little more ambition because the world senses that this president is too disengaged.

ACOSTA: The public is not happy. The president's approval rating in a new CNN/ORC poll now stands at 42 percent, placing Mr. Obama in the second term company of George W. Bush, well below Clinton and Reagan.

Despite all the chaos on his watch, the president appears determined to stay the course. Just one day before the crash of Flight 17 he asked for patience.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We live in a complex world and at a challenging time. And none of these challenges lend themselves to quick or easy solutions, but all of them require American leadership. If we stay patient and determined that we will, in fact, meet these challenges.


ACOSTA: Now one of his fundraisers today the president urged Democrats to get energized for the upcoming midterm elections but with all of these crises happening at once, the president's political job of rallying his party is getting tougher every day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta reporting for us. Breaking news coming up next. The latest from here in Jerusalem

including some increasingly desperate efforts to try to broker a cease-fire. Are they anywhere close to paying off?

And more on the downing of the Malaysian Flight 17. Two Ukrainian military jets shot down in the same area.