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Investigation Continues Into Malaysia Airlines Crash; Israel Sends Troops Into Gaza>

Aired July 18, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a SITUATION ROOM special report, "The Downing of MH17."

Breaking news tonight, finger-pointing at Russia. Ukraine is accusing Moscow of a cover-up at the crash site. International investigators have arrived. What are they finding at the scene? We're looking into new video and audio recordings that appear to back up claims that pro-Russian rebels fired the missile that blasted the jet out of the sky.

And the other breaking story we're following, Israel warns that it's prepared to expand its punishing ground assault into Gaza. The U.S. is urging caution as the civilian death toll rises.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news tonight here in the Middle East, new explosions over Gaza as Israeli ground troops and tanks move deeper into Palestinian territory, targeting Hamas tunnels and firepower.

And in Ukraine, concerns about security at the site of the downed Malaysian airliner. The first international monitors at the scene hearing gunfire. They say they're not getting the access they need. A Ukrainian official is disputing an earlier report that the plane's black boxes were taken to Russia. He tells CNN they're still in Ukraine.

Other breaking developments this hour. CNN has learned that U.S. officials now believe it's most likely that pro-Russian rebels fired the missile that brought down the plane. One senior defense official says the working theory is that Russia provided the rebels with a Buk surface-to-air system.

We also know that at least one American was among the 298 people on board that plane, a Dutch student named Quinn Lucas Schansman, who is also a U.S. citizen.

Our correspondents are standing by. Some of them are at the Flight 17 crash site right now. CNN is using its global reach to cover this huge breaking story for all of our viewers. First, let's go to our chief national security correspondent, Jim

Sciutto. He's got new information -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today U.S. officials, the U.S. methodically building the case for what was behind this shoot-down of this passenger jet. And U.S. officials from the president, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., the Pentagon spokesman pointing the finger at Russia for at least some responsibility here.

The key developments, U.S. officials concluding that this missile came from inside Ukraine, that it's likely that pro-Russian rebels fired the missile at the passenger and, going further, that those rebels would have needed some Russian help to fire that missile. The Pentagon spokesperson, Admiral John Kirby, saying, in his words -- quote -- "It strains credulity that they would have been able to fire this missile without some Russian support."

Ukrainian officials going further and providing what they say is audio and video evidence of Russian involvement, new audio today which they say purports to be of pro-Russian rebels communicating with Russian intelligence agents that they had received a Buk missile launcher, a Russian-made missile launcher -- you're seeing the picture of it right there -- from Russia across the border some days ago and then Ukrainian officials also releasing that video you're seeing there, which purports to show that missile launcher going back across the border into Russia after the plane was taken down, and then that highlighted section on top of the launcher there appearing to show that one missile was now missing from that.

I spoke to the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. today. I asked him what Ukraine wants now. He said he wants U.S.-led talks with Russia to rid the Ukraine of pro-Russian rebels. He says the thing that's going to get Russia to the table for such talks would be severe economic sanctions against Russia. The question is, can the U.S. engineer that? Would European powers, Wolf, be willing to take that step as well?

BLITZER: And, Jim, I know you have been speaking with a lot of U.S. officials. Do they believe that these pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine knew this was a commercial airliner, a Boeing 777 with nearly 300 people on board, 298, to be precise, a Malaysia Airlines airliner, or did they think they were trying to down some other aircraft?

SCIUTTO: U.S. officials have been asked that very question a number of times today. They have balked on answering it, saying it's too early to conclude what anybody's intentions were.

But you will remember that audio we were playing yesterday, again released by Ukrainian officials, which seems to show a pro-Russian rebel as the plane was shot down saying initially that he thought it was a Russian military plane. But, again, this is something, Wolf, that would have to come out in a much more thorough investigation.

BLITZER: I thought it was a Ukrainian military plane. Is that what you meant?

SCIUTTO: That's right, a Ukrainian military transport.

BLITZER: Yes. OK. All right. Stand by. We're going to get back to you in a minute.

I want to go to the crash scene. It's a horrific, horrific scene.

Phil Black is our correspondent. He's there for us.

And I want you to describe what you're seeing, Phil, because this is really awful. It's a disaster over there.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf. We have been talking about it for more than 24 hours now. But really to stand here and to see it is something else entirely.

Behind me is a piece of the wreckage, perhaps two pieces. It's difficult to be sure. And they are large. They're significant and they are standing here in isolation in these very dark fields, nothing else around that sort of shows obviously to be such a large piece of the plane. Really gives a sense of the very likely fact that this aircraft broke up in the skies and then rained down in various pieces across a wide area here.

As I say, it is late, it is dark. We can't see far. But we can see this. It was one of the first thing we saw when we arrived here today, this very large piece of the aircraft. It gives a sense of the force responsible for tearing it apart in the skies, and to stand before it really, really conveys that.

But then to look closer, to stand closer, to look into it and you see an example of the human cost. There is a body in that piece of wreckage behind me, and it is a terrible thing to see. We don't know if it was a crew member, a passenger, but, as I say, a terrible thing. It is in a terrible state as well.

It's really quite powerful to think that just yesterday that aircraft was flying above this ground, flying above the Ukrainian crisis filled with people who had nothing to do with the events going on down here. But now their bodies lie in the fields around us. There are many of them. We can see them in the grass in these fields. Some have been collected, according to the emergency workers that we have been talking to her. But clearly many, many have not.

These people who were flying over a crisis they had nothing to do with, their bodies now lying in the fields of a war zone that, as I say, they had no direct connection to, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know what is so perplexing to me, Phil, is there no authority there, no sort of local government authority that can put some -- whatever -- control that area so people can't walk around and take things?

I understand that anybody can just go there and people have been taking souvenirs, if you will. And the bodies, still more than 24 hours after the crash, they're still lying around there. Is there a semblance of any authority where you are?

BLACK: The key point I guess is that this is for all intents and purposes a conflict zone. It's occupied territory, if you like, and so it is a very unusual hierarchy.

It's all under the control of the pro-Russian rebels. They are here and they appear to be permitting -- and that is the right word, I think -- some emergency ministry workers to be here and to begin the process of recovering bodies, identifying where they are and then recovering some of them.

There's only a small number of these workers that we have seen. And we're told that there are other locations across the debris field, if you like, which, as we have been saying, is quite significant. But they are clearly here working under the authority of the pro-Russian rebels. They're sharing tents just down the road, sharing their meals, the workers eating, drinking tea while the rebels cradle their Kalashnikovs next to them, sharing stories.

They seem to be getting along. They're talking. When we first arrived here, the very first question we were asked by the emergency workers, do the rebels know we're here, do we have permission to be here, to see this, to shoot these pictures?

It is very clear that the rebel forces are in control. They have allowed a limited local emergency response. But what we are not seeing is the large-scale operation that is clearly required to come to terms with something as great as this, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black on the scene with the horrific scene it is. Phil Black, we will get back to you.

Let's go back to our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, along with our military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and our aviation correspondent Richard Quest.

Jim, what's your read on the way President Obama is now handling the current crisis with Russia, because it is a severe crisis that's unfolding?

SCIUTTO: I would say methodically, deliberately.

You heard that in his comments today at the White House, saying there's a lot of misinformation out there, that they want to confirm everything before they make the next move, including who was behind this.

At the same time, some of his own officials, senior officials, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, going a step further today and saying there is evidence that Russia would have needed to help these pro-Russian rebel to launch a missile like this.

President Obama said Russia is responsible for the circumstances in Eastern Ukraine, the fact that the pro-Russian rebels are running around, the fact that it has armed them in the past with sophisticated weapons. But some senior American officials going a step further to say that this shoot-down of this passenger jet likely would have involved Russian support. That is a very alarming charge to make.

BLITZER: Richard Quest, I want to be precise now in the fate of the two black boxes, the flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder. Earlier, there were some indications maybe the Russians now had them. But you spoke to a Ukrainian minister who said they are in Ukraine, but it's clearly still a question where in Ukraine, who has authority. Be precise. What do we know?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm glad you're asking for that precision, because I kept forcing the economy minister to say what did he mean.

He was requoting the foreign minister, who had said in an interview in Ukraine that the black boxes were still on Ukrainian soil, that they were not in the possession of the -- he wasn't sure they were in the possession of the observers. So when I said does that mean you know where the black boxes are, he would not say that. He would not say that they had them or that they knew exactly -- or who had possession of them.

But it scotched the rumor that those boxes had been taken east across into Russia. So they are still on Ukrainian soil. And you have got this bizarre, almost Cold War spy novel rush to get to the black boxes first.

Wolf, one point to note. Listening to what Phil Black was just saying then, I was absolutely taken with the enormous task. They don't just need a few people to be going in there. As Peter Goelz will testify later, you need hundreds of people. You need refrigeration trucks, you need hazardous material distribution and disposal.

The size -- the discrepancy, Wolf, between what is there and what is needed for a half-decent recovery operation with dignity is absolutely mind-boggling.

BLITZER: It is heart-wrenching and shocking, I must say, to see what's going on at the scene. I can only imagine how awful this must be for family members who might be watching right now to see what the carnage there and the lack of authority, the lack of credibility, any kind of semblance of recovery, if you will. It's heartbreaking to see that.

General Hertling, you worked extensively with the Ukrainian military. You know the region well. What's your read of how sophisticated these pro-Russian rebels might be?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They're very sophisticated, Wolf.

I think the fact that they're using the Buk system, what the military calls an SA-11 or a Gadfly under NATO terminology, just shows how sophisticated they are. This is not a video game system. This is not a point-and-shoot air defense system. This is a tough system to run. It's usually linked with a bigger radar, but in fact it can use the onboard radar to intercept.

Again, it's not a video game so it doesn't give extreme details like the type of aircraft you're shooting down. It paints the sky. It gets a radar signature, it determines altitude, bearing and speed, and then it links the missile to the radar and shoots.

They didn't know what they were shooting at. They knew they were shooting at an airplane. They have shot down aircraft at lower levels in the past, not necessarily with this system. But this is complicated and it took a skilled crew to do what they did. Again, this system doesn't have what we have in some of our U.S. systems, the identification friend or foe, IFF, system.

Georgia used this system in 2008 to shoot down some Russian military in their war with them. So, again, this is a fearful system. This is an awesome air defense system that we train heavily against in the United States. And to put it against a civilian airliner or a slow-moving airliner, as if they thought it was a transport plane, that's a relatively easy shot compared to what it's designed to kill down, which is cruise missiles and fast-moving jets.

BLITZER: Yes. That's an excellent point. I have heard that now. It is shocking indeed. I want everyone to stand by.

Joining us now is the spokesman if the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, those international monitors who tried to get to the scene today. Michael Bociurkiw is joining us.

Michael, what happened today? Because all of us want those OSCE monitors to see what's going on. Who prevented you guys from doing your job?


Listen, there was a lot of anticipation of our visit. It was all over social media. News networks were covering it. We had a very smooth kind of transfer from our various cities where we're normally based to the crash area. But once we got to the crash area, that's where things dramatically changed. We were basically confronted by armed individuals who seemed to be controlling the area.

We carefully explained what our mission is, and that is to report and to monitor and help facilitate dialogue. But we were met with anything -- it went from indifference to rude, very rude behavior, and even provocative behavior.

When we were leaving, there was a shot fired into the air. We were humiliated. And most importantly, we were very limited in the amount of space that we were able to cover, maybe about 200 meters of road. And we were there for only 75 minutes. So you can't do very much in that time, clearly.

BLITZER: Would you say there's any serious effort to secure that crash scene? Because it looks like a total disaster.

BOCIURKIW: Well, I think it was Richard Quest who used the word mind-boggling. And I have covered air crashes before. And this certainly was in that category.

One of our intents today was to evaluate how secure the perimeter of the crash site is. And we saw very, very little security, rudimentary at best. The other thing, of course, is the bodies. I mean, they're still lying there.

We talked to some emergency rescue officials and they said their job is only limited to marking where there are bodies and then body parts, but not to move them. Their response was, well, that's someone else's job to do.

I think that is the big question right now is, even if we're able to determine what exactly is needed and how it can be done, which parties will be acceptable to people who have control over that area, who do things like recover the bodies to help, you know, analyze the debris, that sort of thing.

BLITZER: We're told that these pro-Russian rebels in effect are in control of this crash site. Was that your appreciation, your understanding when you were there?


They're firmly in control in terms of access. It didn't strike us as they really knew what they should be doing. As we speak, we are in talks with our contacts here to make sure that there is not a repeat of what happened today. Our intent is to go out there in a few hours, when there's daylight, spend the whole day doing things exactly what we're supposed to, again, assess the security of the area, the perimeter, do a proper body count, examine whether the wreckage has been tampered with.

And I know you were talking about the black boxes just now. It was our intent to possibly even transfer them or transport them today. When we asked for the commander of the local area to ask him, well, where are they, there was no commander. There was no one in charge to be able to answer that question. It was, again, mind-boggling.

BLITZER: And one final question. I know in the past several months, several of your OSCE monitors have been detained by these separatists.

First of all, are your people OK? Anyone still being detained?

BOCIURKIW: Sure. Thanks for asking.

Yes, they're fine. We have no one being held right now. But having said that, that incident where eight of our colleagues were held for up to a month -- and, by the way, they were taken very close to the area where the plane went down. You know, that was a real shock to our system. And so we're being extra, extra careful in terms of security. There's a lot of groups, there's a lot of firepower. It's

actually very scary in some areas, so very difficult for a monitoring mission to operate, but we're assuming that risk and we're trying to get our job done as best we can.

BLITZER: Michael, be careful over there. You guys do very important work. But I know it's risky, it's dangerous. So be -- be very careful, the spokesman for the OSCE joining us.

Still ahead, we have new information on the U.S. role in the investigation of the shoot-down of Flight 17. Stand by for that.

And the clues, and in the carnage, a veteran crash investigator tells us what he sees in the photos of the Flight 17 wreckage.


BLITZER: President Obama now calling for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine and a credible international investigation into what happened. He spoke out today about the downing of Flight 17 and about Russia's possible role.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, for the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you may be able to hear Marine one, the sound of Marine one over my shoulder.

Right now, President Obama is in the middle of some meetings that he's wrapping up on the situation in Ukraine. And then he will be headed out to Camp David this weekend after handing down what sounded like an indictment of Vladimir Putin and the Russians for the downing of Flight 17.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It was the president acting as prosecutor, first putting faces on what he called a global tragedy.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Men, women, children, infants who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine, their deaths are an outrage of unspeakable proportions.

ACOSTA: Including one young dual U.S.-Dutch citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman.

OBAMA: Our thoughts and prayers are with his family for this terrible loss.

ACOSTA: Then Mr. Obama presented the case the U.S. is carefully building against pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine and their backers in Moscow.

OBAMA: Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine. ACOSTA: Barely 24 hours before the crash, senior administration

officials warned that kind of weaponry was already used to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft.

OBAMA: A group of separatists can't shoot down military transport planes or they claim shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training, and that is coming from Russia.

ACOSTA: The man responsible for that, the president said, is Vladimir Putin.

OBAMA: He has the most control over that situation. And so far at least, he has not exercised it.

ACOSTA: In the hours after the crash, the Russian president was playing defense, blaming Ukraine.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on that land, and, in any case, if military activities had not resumed in the southeast of Ukraine.

OBAMA: We don't have time for games.

ACOSTA: But the games may have already begun, with fears that evidence is disappearing and international monitors are facing harassment at the crash site. The president is dispatching NTSB and FBI investigators to Ukraine in what could be a race against time.

OBAMA: Evidence must not be tampered with. Investigators need to access the crash site.

ACOSTA: But in the smoldering wreckage, the White House may finally have the smoking gun it has needed to rally a reluctant world to punish Putin.

OBAMA: I think that this certainly will be a wakeup call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalating conflict in Eastern Ukraine.


ACOSTA: Now, President Obama will be at Camp David with the rest of his family, but it will be a working weekend. Wolf, he has calls and briefings scheduled all weekend long on both the violence in Gaza and the plane crash. But don't look for the president to make a rush to judgment, aides say, on Putin just yet. He says he wants more facts, not speculation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

All eyes clearly on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, right now.

CNN's Brian Todd is taking a closer look at his potential next move.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Vladimir Putin and the pro- Russian rebels in Ukraine who he supported have denied any involvement in the crash. Analysts believe Putin circled the wagons in Moscow and is carefully weighing his options, but he's doing that from a position of growing isolation.


TODD (voice-over): Vladimir Putin responded to this horror in predictable fashion, by hunkering down, deflecting blame toward Ukraine.

PUTIN (through translator): This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land or if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed.

TODD: But U.S. leaders are blunt. While he didn't set the launch codes, Putin's support for the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine believed to have fired the missile place a heavy burden on the man in the Kremlin.

OBAMA: He has the most control over that situation, and so far at least he has not exercised it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think he's responsible.

TODD: Analysts say in the immediate aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines crash, Vladimir Putin is under enormous pressure.

STEVEN PIFER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UKRAINE: This is one of the most difficult situations that Vladimir Putin has faced since he first became president back in 2000.

TODD: Of his most powerful partners, Germany is pressuring him to pull back his support of the pro-Russian rebels. And China is not saying anything one way or the other.

Analyst say his only visible supporters in the immediate aftermath of the crash may be Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Cuba's Raul Castro. And it could get worse. The consequences for Putin if he interferes with the crash investigation, if he doesn't ratchet back tensions with Ukraine?

PIFER: The consequences are very severe sanctions. For example, the West could cut off any access to the Russian financial markets from any financing from any loans in the West.

TODD: But experts say Putin is under pressure inside Russia as well from hard-line nationalists who want him to take back some of Ukraine.

PROF. ANGELA STENT, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: He's already come under pressure from them because they say he allowed the Ukrainian military official to take back one of the major cities that was under occupation.

TODD: All prompting the inevitable question, how will this man who hates to be painted into a corner respond to all of the pressure.


TODD: His unpredictability there has many on edge. Analysts say Putin could get more aggressive with Ukraine, he could simply ride this out, he could deescalate with Ukraine while helping nominally with an investigation. What analysts say he is not likely to do is really bring whoever fired the missile to justice. A trial or any proceeding like that might reveal hard information on where they got the weapon -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Brian Todd, thank you.

Let's bring back Jim Sciutto, also our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, and our national security analyst Bob Baer.

Jim Sciutto, what will Putin do next based on everything you're hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question. This is something that U.S. officials have been struggling with for weeks and they have been frustrated with the fact that his public statements differ from what's happening on the ground.

The president said that again today. Better words coming out of Moscow but not better actions. Now you have what is undeniably an escalation of the shot down of the plane and some responsibility be laid at the feet of Putin and Russia.

But, really, U.S. officials have no idea. The real question I think now is, how do U.S. officials, how do European officials react now to increase the pressure on Putin?

BLITZER: Bob Baer, you think this is obviously a very tricky development. The U.S. is about to draw major conclusions about Russia's connection to all of this. How difficult will it be to determine that?

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, I think it's pretty clear now, Wolf, that Putin has created a proxy force in the Eastern Ukraine which he can't control. He's armed it, he sent trainers in, he's obviously sending money in. The evidence is very, very good in a situation like this.

The question is, will he give up Eastern Ukraine, a major political defeat, or will he continue to fight on? It's unknown now.

BLITZER: Pamela, you've been reporting about the FBI agents who are heading to the scene. What have you learned? PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've learned

that two FBI agents, a general investigator and a forensic expert are en route to Kiev, Ukraine, right now. For the time being, they're going to stay under the umbrella of the U.S. embassy and are going to wait for more direction from the Ukrainian authorities.

Of course, the big concern is safe passage to that crime scene which is in a disputed territory. It's a hostile environment. We learned early today that some European investigators experienced hostile environment firsthand. They witnessed shots fired into the air. So, the big concern for the U.S. investigators, these two FBI agents, is to figure out how to get into the crime scene. And that really will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Ukrainian officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, you're a former assistant director of the FBI. With all due respect to FBI agents, they're excellent, but what can do FBI agents do there on the scene?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right now, Wolf, what they're there to do is to give advice to the Ukrainians of how to go about this investigation, how to proceed if allowed access, if the Ukrainians themselves are allowed access.

As I mentioned earlier, the Ukrainian government wants a full- scale investigation by outside experts to come in and do it, but they don't control the ground there. So, it's kind of an irrelevant point at this time until they get there.

The FBI already has a full-time office in Kiev with a number of agents, and would have already been getting advice about this situation. But you know, a crime scene like this, spread out over 10 miles, you're talking about hundreds of people that it would take to comb the fields, to gather the evidence and then, you know, hundreds more to take care of all of the poor victims that are still lying in the field unattended.

So, you know, you would need a small army of people to control that scene and to do it properly. And a handful of European observers with smartphone cameras isn't going to cut it. And a couple of FBI agents giving advice to the Ukrainian government a couple hundred miles away in Kiev, that's not going to get it done either.

So, right now, until the rebels allow an investigation to occur, it's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an awful situation. All right, guys. Stand by.

Just ahead, the scene of the shot down. What can investigators tell from the disturbing photos of the wreckage?

And later, we go live to Gaza as Israel pounds Hamas targets on the ground and in the air. The assault could get even bigger.

More of the breaking news coverage, that's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Investigators are just beginning to comb the Flight 17 wreckage for clues on the ground and the photo of the crash site.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman, along with CNN aviation analyst Peter Goelz.

Tom, set the scene for us. How are they doing -- what are their goals?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Peter, you can answer that better than I can by far.

Let's look at the big debris field here. What are you looking for when you get into this area, if you could get people in there?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: What you're looking for is this was clearly a place where there was a heavy fuel burn. You've got a portion of the engine here, you got another portion of the engine here and you've got landing gear up over here. It is most likely the center core part of the aircraft. That's where the center fuel tank is, that's where the fuel from the fuel in the wings are funneling back to the engines. It's the most flammable part of the plane. It's also the strongest part of the aircraft.

FOREMAN: You can't get investigators in here right now. You need them in here desperately. How much difference does it make that this guy is here, that other people are walking through this site?

GOELZ: Well, it is very disturbing. I mean you cannot have people just picking through parts -- sometimes there are very small parts that make a big difference. Sometimes there isn't. But in any case, when I was at the NTSB, we prosecuted people who were standing doing things like that.

FOREMAN: What can you tell from some of the bigger pieces, even from the photographs here?

GOELZ: Yes, this is an interesting piece. Eerily, like some of the large pieces from TWA 800, what you see is a tear. You also see no sooting. It was obviously probably a later piece of the plane that came off after the missile struck, did its damage. This came unzipped and floated down to earth.

FOREMAN: What can you tell about things like this? When you look at the wheels or it, does this tell you anything other than fire?

GOELZ: That's part of the center wheel chasses. Again, right near to center wing tank. Obviously, there was plenty of fuel there when this thing was coming down. It was on fire.

FOREMAN: I'm going to guess pieces like this, a door similar to the one you talked about before.

But let me ask you one other. Look at these personal effects here. We talked a lot about this -- things that people had on board there. Right now, we have many victim of this presumably in the wreckage out there now for days, the scene is decaying. The actual evidence you want there.

But how do investigators deal with that when you walk into the middle of all of this and here are people and their lives?

GOELZ: It is the most difficult thing you can imagine, particularly with children. You see parts of people's lives. You see things that reflect right back to you.

I remember being in an accident scene and seeing a book that I was reading in the wreckage. I'll never forget that. It is that these innocents are still laying in the field this long after the accident is unforgivable.

FOREMAN: And the difficulty of dealing with that and, of course, Wolf, the sheer forensics of a scene like this, all the more complicated as each hour and each day goes by and the scene is unattended by professionals -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a shocking, shocking development. Guys, thanks very much.

Just ahead, we're learning more about the American who was killed on board Flight 17. Stand by for that.

We'll also go live to Gaza as the Israeli ground assault intensifies, threatens to grow even bigger. I'll get Palestinian reaction to the attacks that are under way right now.


BLITZER: Some important news just coming in on the fate of those critically important nuclear talks with Iran.

Our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is over at the State Department.

You've got new information. What have you learned, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. Well, you know, the last few weeks the so-called P5-plus-one world powers in Iran have been trying to hash out a deal before this July 20th deadline. I'm told they're not able to do that and now Western diplomats telling me that Iran and the P5-plus-one have agreed to a four-month extension to conclude those negotiations for a final deal, Wolf.

They could not come to terms because there is a lot of discrepancy about how much of a nuclear architecture Iran could maintain after any deal. And that's why they're going to be talking for another four months, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what happens. These are critically important. You're also getting some new information about the American who

was killed on board Flight 17. What are you learning on that front, Elise?

LABOTT: His name is Quinn Lucas Schansman. He's about 19 years old, Wolf. Was a business student at the University of Amsterdam and on his Facebook page today, a lot of people talking about what a wonderful person he was. His girlfriend was making some comments.

Clearly, this was someone who really enjoyed life and was really just starting out. He was on his way to Malaysia to meet up with his family. He was a soccer player and everyone tonight in Amsterdam very upset as well as his friends back here.

He was a dual nationality. He was also a citizen of the Netherlands and the Dutch certainly mourning today.

The U.S. is also, Wolf, continuing to look and see if there are any other dual nationals. They've ruled out that any Americans living in the United States that traveled on a U.S. passport were onboard the flight, but because there are so many dual nationals around the world, some maiden names and such. They're really just combing the list to be 100 percent sure.

BLITZER: Elise Labott at the State Department, thank you.

Our deepest, deepest condolences to his family, indeed to all of the families of the 298 people who were on board the airliner.

We'll have more breaking news just ahead, including some deadly fighting in Gaza underway, as Israeli forces push deeper into Hamas territory. The mission is clearly escalating as Israel has warned it might. We're live in Jerusalem. We're following the breaking news.

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


BLITZER: Live in Jerusalem, following the breaking new, the unfolding Israeli assault in Gaza. Israel is warning it may even expand its mission against Hamas. We're seeing possible signs of that tonight.

Our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Gaza for us.

Ben, what have you been seeing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a little while ago, Wolf, there was an airstrike not far from here. Earlier in the evening, there were a lot of flares being fired to the east of here near Shaja'ia neighborhood, near the border with Israel.

It's now gone quiet. But it certainly was not a quiet day. In the 26 hours since the Israeli ground invasion began, more than 50 people have been killed, among them an entire family in Beit Hannon to the northeast of here where four adults, four children were killed when their house took a direct hit.

At this point, the death toll is me nearing 300. We're seeing the situation on the ground is increasingly difficult with more and prolonged power cuts. Nearly a million people here are without running water. And we've seen a number of people who have taken refuge in United Nations schools doubling from 20,000 to 40,000 in the last 24 hours, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Gaza for us, thanks very much.

Last hour, I spoke with the spokesmen for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Right now, we are joined on the phone by the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. He's joining us from Istanbul.

Saeb, is there any progress as far as you can tell towards a ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas?

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR (via telephone): What I can tell you, Wolf, at this hour is that there an ongoing meeting now between President Abbas and Prime Minister Erdogan. It's been going on for the last four hours. President Abbas was in Cairo where he had extensive meeting with President Sisi, other Egyptian officials. He is in touch with all the factions including Hamas and jihad, and has one item on his agenda and that is the implementation of the Egyptian initiative, ceasefire, immediate ceasefire, timed ceasefire, and then everything will be discussed an hour later.

What is going on in Gaza now, I think the ground incursion of the Israeli forces is really complicating matters. It's overloading our wagon of complexities. It's adding to the complexities we're facing.

President Abbas was also on the phone tonight with Secretary John Kerry. He was in touch with a phone call with the pope today, His holiness Pope Francis. He's going to be going to Qatar in the next 24 hours.

And we're exerting every possible effort in order to do one thing, stop this bloodshed, stop this massacre.

Wolf, in the last 24 hours, 68 Palestinians, mainly women and children, have been killed. The destruction is enormous. The infrastructures are being destroyed. More than 20,000 homes have been damaged or totally destroyed.

This madness must stop, because there will never be a political solution through these military means. What we need is to give the Egyptian initiative the chance it deserves. That's why the president is in Turkey. That's why he was in Egypt yesterday. He's in touch with the Europeans. He met with the Foreign Minister Fabius today in Cairo, and he also met with Steinmeier, the foreign minister of Germany, Federica Mogherini, the foreign minister of Italy.

And if Mr. Netanyahu believes he can achieve the political solution by his tanks and his airplanes and his navy, he's dead wrong. He's only adding fuel to the fire and he's adding complexities to already overloaded wagon of complexities.

BLITZER: But in fairness, Saeb, the Israelis accepted the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. They stopped their military activity and Hamas rejected it. They continued launching rockets and missiles into Israel. They had a chance.

What will it take to convince Hamas to stop launching rockets and missiles into Israel?

ERAKAT: Well, I don't think that you're going to convince Hamas by doing your military ground invasion and incursion. We are here. We're doing whatever we can, whatever humanly possible in order to stop the cycle, to stop the -- to have a ceasefire.

And then from there, the Egyptians are willing to have Palestinians and Israelis separately in Cairo in order to see what to do the day after.

This is the only way -- Wolf, I don't think that Israel military ground invasion into Gaza is going to add more security and more peace to Israel. On the contrary, it would just enlarge the cycle of violence, violence and chaos and extremism.

BLITZER: Is there any hope, though, that there's -- there can be a ceasefire right now? Because the Israelis see an opportunity to destroy as much of Hamas's military capability as they can ,especially those tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel. Is there any initiative that can stop this right now or is this going to go on?

ERAKAT: No, I think -- I've seen some good signs tonight in Istanbul. I have seen more determination for more anything I've seen before in Egypt from President Sisi. I think there is a concerted effort now in order to see to it that we begin immediate implementation of the Egyptian initiative. That's what we hope to achieve because this is the only way out.

I don't see any other vehicle out other than the vehicle of a ceasefire and to sustain it and to look forward into the day after what you're going to do with (INAUDIBLE) help rebuilding and reconstructing and so on.

BLITZER: I know you've been working very hard, together with President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, traveling from Egypt to Turkey, on your way to Qatar right now, and I know that the Egyptians are working very hard. Let's see if there can be a ceasefire that can be achieved.

Thanks very much, Saeb Erakat for joining us.

Let me take this note before we leave to thank our long-time director Chip Firzel, who is moving on. He has been in the seat for a long time. For all of us at CNN, Chip, thanks for doing an excellent job.

And to all our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.