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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Heavt fighting in Central Gaza has left at least 140 Palestinians dead over the last two days, that according to a hospital director there who spoke with NPR. The new bombardments include an overnight airstrike by Israel on a U.N. facility sheltering displaced families.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Here's how an aid worker for Doctors Without Borders describes the scene in Central Gaza.

KARIN HUSTER: The situation is apocalyptic. This morning, on my way to the hospital, I saw two donkeys carrying the bodies of at least eight people who had died.

MARTÍNEZ: This is happening despite U.S. calls for Israel and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire originally proposed by Israel.

MARTIN: We're going to go now to NPR's Kat Lonsdorf, who is in Tel Aviv. Hello, Kat.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So what have you been hearing about what's going on in Gaza?

LONSDORF: Yeah, so in the past few days, Israeli troops have launched a new offensive in central Gaza. Israel's military says its Air Force is striking Hamas and that its ground troops are operating in a limited manner. But from what we've heard from people on the ground, including our producer, Anas Baba, that area has been pummeled with Israeli airstrikes and artillery in the past two days. And just a reminder, these areas are - in Central Gaza are where many people have fled in recent weeks from Rafah in the south. That aid worker we just heard, Karin Huster, who called it apocalyptic - she sent us that voice note on Wednesday, before the Israeli airstrike last night on the U.N. facility.

MARTIN: Do we know any more about that strike? What can you tell us?

LONSDORF: Yeah. This morning, Anas, our producer, spoke to us from that U.N. school that had been hit. He said the school is sheltering displaced families. One he heard about had reached the school just two weeks ago, and the entire family was killed while they were sleeping. Anas described walking up the school staircase, which was covered in blood, and he saw severely injured children. The Israeli military put out a statement this morning saying that that strike was, quote, "precise," and that a Hamas compound had been embedded in the school with people who had been involved in the October 7 attacks on Israel. The military also said that a number of steps were taken to reduce the risk of harming uninvolved civilians.

MARTIN: You know, just last week, President Biden unveiled what he called an Israeli plan for a cease-fire. What's the status of that?

LONSDORF: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come out and said that what Biden unveiled was not, quote, "complete" and insisted Israel would carry on until it has destroyed Hamas both as a military and governing force. Netanyahu has a delicate balancing act between pressure from the U.S. and his own coalition here in Israel made up in part by far-right politicians who are demanding the total annihilation of Hamas. They have openly threatened to bring down his government if he doesn't stick to their demands.

And, you know, there are efforts in Doha to get talks restarted, but they just really don't seem to be going anywhere. Hamas originally responded positively to that plan that Biden put forth last week, but now they're signaling that they won't agree to it unless Israel says it will end the war completely.

MARTIN: I want to talk more about sort of those elements in Israeli politics. The far right has become an important player in the past few years. And yesterday, Israeli nationalists made a show of strength in a parade through Jerusalem. Talk more about that, if you would.

LONSDORF: Yeah, so this was a celebration of a national holiday here called Jerusalem Day. It's a parade that happens every year. It marks when Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. I was at the march yesterday, and it's - tens of thousands of people showed up, waving the Israeli flag, singing and dancing. You know, they say it's just a celebration to show that Israel claims all of Jerusalem, but we heard marchers shouting things like, death to Arabs. And for Palestinians, it's very provocative. And, you know, it should be noted that those far-right members of Netanyahu's cabinet - the ones who are against the cease-fire deal - many of them were there.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Kat Lonsdorf from Tel Aviv. Kat, thank you.

LONSDORF: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: It's not every day that a spat between neighbors becomes national news - unless one of the neighbors sits on the Supreme Court.

MARTÍNEZ: Recently, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was forced to explain why an upside-down flag was raised in front of his house just after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The flag is one of the totems embraced by election deniers, far-right groups and some supporters of former President Donald Trump. Alito said his wife put up the flag because of a fight with their neighbors.

MARTIN: The neighbor at the center of the dispute spoke with NPR's Tom Dreisbach, and he's with us now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So tell us what we know about how this - what this spat was about. Like, how did it get started?

DREISBACH: Yeah, so it all starts on a street in Northern Virginia. On the one hand, you have the Alitos - Justice Samuel Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann. He's on the political right, of course. Down the block, you have Emily Baden and her family. She calls herself a leftist. And after Trump lost the 2020 election, Baden and her husband put up a sign in front of their house. On the one side, it said - paraphrasing for the radio here - F Trump.

Then, after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Baden put up another sign that said Trump is a fascist, and, quote, "you are complicit." And from what we understand, Martha-Ann Alito was not a fan of either sign. According to The New York Times, which broke the story, the upside-down flag started hanging in front of the Alitos' house around that time. And we should say some Trump supporters were doing this at the time to show their opposition to Joe Biden taking office. But all of this was just a prelude to two more incidents on the block.

MARTIN: OK, so what happened next?

DREISBACH: First, Inauguration Day 2021 - Emily Baden and her now husband drive by the Alitos' house. Martha-Ann Alito is standing outside. And in Baden's version of events, Martha-Ann Alito yells something at them and looks like she spits in the direction of the car. And then, a few weeks later, Emily Baden and her husband are in front of their house. Justice Alito and Martha-Ann Alito walk up. And here is what Emily Baden told us happened next - and a warning, there's some rough language here that we have bleeped.

EMILY BADEN: And then Mrs. Alito says something like, well, well, well, if it isn't the [expletive] fascists. And that was when I spoke back, and I said - I did obviously use an expletive. But I also said a lot of other things, like, how dare you behave this way?

DREISBACH: The expletive she used was the C-word. She said she now regrets saying that. In any case, Baden says Justice Alito stayed quiet the whole time, and then he and Martha-Ann Alito both walked away.

MARTIN: So was that it? Was there anything else?

DREISBACH: Well, Baden and her husband were a little freaked out because Martha-Ann Alito used their full names when she walked up, and they had never actually met. Here's Baden again.

BADEN: The power imbalance between these people and myself is huge. And they're choosing to harass and intimidate us when we are nothing to them.

DREISBACH: Her husband actually called the cops. They said they would contact the Alitos' protective detail - not much else they could do. And that was the last interaction they had.

MARTIN: So what do the Alitos say about this?

DREISBACH: Well, Justice Alito sent a letter to Congress about all this because Democrats were calling on him to recuse himself from two Trump-related cases involving January 6. Now, Alito claimed that his wife was solely responsible for putting up a flag upside-down. She refused to take them down in his version of events. He said her reasons for flying it are, quote, "not relevant for present purposes," but did note the argument with the Badens and the C-word. But we know that argument on the street happened weeks after the Alitos had flown the upside-down flag. We asked the Supreme Court about that discrepancy, and they did not respond.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thank you.

DREISBACH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The European Union holds its election for parliament this weekend.

MARTÍNEZ: The EU is the world's second biggest democracy, home to 450 million citizens. This election is a once-every-five-year event, and it comes at a challenging time for Europe.

MARTIN: To tell us more about all this is NPR's Central Europe correspondent, Rob Schmitz. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So voters will head to the polls in the EU starting today through Sunday, depending on the country. What's different for EU citizens now? What are the issues that they weren't thinking about in the last election in 2019?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, the biggest difference from five years ago is that there is now an ongoing war on European soil. Russia's military campaign in Ukraine has forced the EU to completely restructure how it gets its energy, and that's led to rising prices for food, gas - you name it. And it's meant that the biggest issue from the last election, climate change, has, in some ways, been shifted to the background to make way for more immediate concerns, like the overall survival of the economy in the face of not only a war in Ukraine, but also in the aftermath of a global pandemic. It's been a tough five years for Europe.

MARTIN: What do you think this means politically for the EU?

SCHMITZ: You know, as we've seen in national elections throughout Europe in the past few years, all of this chaos has resulted in a sort of hodgepodge of results. We've seen the rebound of far-right parties in countries like Italy, here in Germany and in the Netherlands. But we've also witnessed the resurrection of centrist politics in countries like Poland, where a far-right populist party in power for years was defeated by a record turnout of voters who are fed up with its poor track record.

What is clear amongst all of these varied political results is that big parties that have made up mainstream politics for decades in Europe are losing votes, making way for a bigger variety of parties. I spoke to Judy Dempsey about this. She's a nonresident fellow at Carnegie Europe, and here's what she thinks will happen in this election.

JUDY DEMPSEY: There are so many different political parties. Whoever gets the largest, whoever gets the smallest - that will have a say. And in some ways, there's going to be paralysis for a couple of months. And this is bad news for Europe at a time when it's facing so many big domestic and global issues.

SCHMITZ: And Michel, essentially, what she means here is that we're likely going to see EU parliament seats divided more evenly amongst a bigger group of parties across the political spectrum. And that'll mean that Europe will have to wait as these parties negotiate how this power is going to be divided.

MARTIN: And what will this mean for Europe's relationship with the U.S. - and the rest of the world, for that matter?

SCHMITZ: Well, yeah, the biggest impact could be on continuing support for Ukraine. We've seen that support sort of waver in the U.S., and we could see more roadblocks here in Europe if, for example, the far right sees gains in its support.

The other big issue will be climate-change policy. As I mentioned before, this issue has slipped into the background a little, and a wave of intense farmer protests this past year has forced the EU to step back on implementing climate-related policies. We could see the EU move even further in that direction after this election.

Last but not least, the EU's very important relationship with the world's two biggest superpowers - the U.S. and China - might be moved aside for a while or even shift a little bit during this transition of power, and that could have an impact on what are extremely important political and economic relationships for the EU. It could also impact the EU's role in trying to help the U.S. maintain a rules-based system internationally that they both had a big role in forming.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Rob Schmitz joining us from Berlin. Rob, thank you.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.