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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a glimpse today of life for civilians in what Israel's defense minister has called a complete siege of Gaza.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Israel is responding to an attack out of Gaza by Hamas, which killed 1,300 people. The bombardment by air and sea has killed more than 2,700 Palestinians. And for those who survive, food and water are running out, as Israel has shut off the supply of both.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aya Batrawy has been talking with people in Gaza. Welcome back to the program.

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing?

BATRAWY: It's been sheer terror and a struggle to survive. Hundreds of thousands of people in the northern half of the Gaza Strip had to leave their homes following Israeli evacuation notices. There were leaflets dropped from the sky. Many left by foot, kids were walking for miles, moms were carrying their babies. And there's no guarantee of safety to the areas they're fleeing to in the south. Israel continues to bomb across all of the Gaza Strip, and there are reports of entire families killed in their homes in the south of Gaza over the weekend. And a third of all of those killed since the start of this war in the Gaza Strip have been children. That's according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

And there are simply people who cannot evacuate even if they wanted to. You've got doctors still treating a stream of dead and wounded, including in Gaza City's biggest hospital, Al Shifa, which is under this evacuation notice. You have more than 9,000 people wounded in this conflict. Many are on life support. You have disabled people on dialysis, elderly. I reached a woman named Nancy in Gaza City. She's stuck there with a baby and no way to get out. Let's take a listen to what she told me.

NANCY: (Non-English language spoken).

BATRAWY: So she's saying she has no transportation, no cars able to take her out. The neighborhood is full of people that haven't left either. She's running low on baby formula and diapers and water. And that is the other major crisis unfolding now for Gaza. People are drinking seawater and contaminated water, and that is because Gaza has been under a complete Israeli siege for an entire week now, with nothing coming in, no fuel, food or water. And the main power plant has shut down. And hospitals are on their last days of fuel for generators.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking through everything you've told me, Aya. You're talking about the hardship imposed by an evacuation order. In theory, the evacuation order is to protect civilians so that Israel's military can do what it wants without killing civilians. But people are saying they're being harmed by that, being harmed by the blockade. So where does the United States fit into all this? Doesn't the U.S. say it supports Israel but does not want civilians harmed?

BATRAWY: Well, we have been hearing for the past two days that there are efforts for the border crossing, Gaza's border crossing with Egypt, to open. And that would allow some 500 to 600 Americans, Palestinian Americans, and other foreigners to leave. But Egypt is insisting, if that border crossing opens, aid has to get in from Egypt's side. And - but we've just heard this morning from Israel's prime minister office saying no deal for a cease-fire in the south of Gaza has been reached, so no foreigners coming out and no aid going in.

Now, Egypt has a huge convoy of aid trucks waiting there at the border ready to bring in fuel, food, ambulances, surgical kits, medications and chlorine tablets for water. Doctors Without Borders says, currently, there are no painkillers in hospitals, so you have people and children screaming in pain from full body burns, severed limbs, shattered bones. This is the situation now in Gaza.

INSKEEP: And Israel, of course, is by no means done with its operation. What is it planning next?

BATRAWY: Well, we know there are hundreds of thousands of Israeli reservists at the border, and there's talk of an imminent ground invasion into Gaza. And after all of what has unfolded, Israel says it is still only the beginning of its response to the Hamas attacks. The U.S. has made clear it stands by Israel. It is not calling for calm or urging restraint at this time. But Israel has said repeatedly it will destroy Hamas as an organization, disarm it, make it unable to govern. But how that happens is unclear.

INSKEEP: Aya, thanks so much.

BATRAWY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy in Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: OK, the white House plans to ask Congress this week for billions of dollars in overseas spending.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, money to help both Israel and Ukraine to defend themselves. President Biden said U.S. assistance in both cases is necessary in an interview that aired on "60 Minutes" last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We're the United States of America, for God's sake, the most powerful nation in the history - not in the world, in the history of the world, the history of the world. We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defense.

MARTÍNEZ: But it's not at all clear that this aid package can pass the House of Representatives.

INSKEEP: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is following this. Tam, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is the White House asking for?

KEITH: Well, at this point, we don't know precisely how much the White House will tell Congress they need. But back in August, they asked for $24 billion to get Ukraine through the end of this calendar year. And that hasn't come through yet. Now we expect that number to increase and, of course, for the administration to add on military assistance to Israel.

We know that officials from the administration were up on Capitol Hill laying the groundwork for this request. And we also know that there is wide bipartisan support within Congress. But a relatively small and vocal faction of House Republicans oppose more aid to Ukraine, have held it up so far. Others have major reservations, and that includes Jim Jordan, the current pick of the House Republicans to be their speaker. We don't know if he'll actually get the job. National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby says that the White House believes they don't have time on their side.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KIRBY: The runway is not forever here in terms of not only operations on the ground in Israel and Ukraine, but our ability to continue to provide security assistance to both partners.

KEITH: The president and allies in Congress from both sides of the aisle are still looking for ways to get this aid passed, and they aren't giving up.

INSKEEP: But if the runway is not forever, to use John Kirby's phrase, what are the stakes if the president cannot get the United States to keep the commitments he's made?

KEITH: Well, every foreign policy expert I spoke with in the past couple of weeks, and it's been a bunch of them, said that both America's allies and adversaries are watching closely. I asked Leon Panetta, who served in key roles in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, whether President Biden's reputation was on the line.

LEON PANETTA: It's not just the credibility of Joe Biden, it's the credibility of the United States. And the last thing that this country needs to do in a dangerous world is send our adversaries a message of weakness.

KEITH: The argument is that Russia and China and Iran are all watching the U.S. resolve and looking for the alliances that President Biden is so proud of helping to build in Europe and beyond, looking for those alliances to falter, for fatigue to set in.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, I'd like to know what the public has to say about all of this and if they have any sway. What do Americans think right now about aid to Ukraine and aid to Israel?

KEITH: Well, a new PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll indicates that a majority of Americans want the U.S. to voice strong support for Israel. But this is also new, and the extent of U.S. assistance isn't clear yet, so we don't know how the public will land on military aid. With Ukraine, a new Chicago Council on Public Affairs poll finds public support has slipped since the earliest days of the war in 2022, but a significant majority of Americans still support providing assistance, so does a significant majority in Congress. But as we said, a small faction in Congress can really gum things up.

INSKEEP: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks so much for your insights.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Poland's populist right-wing government appears to be on its way out after eight years in power.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, it seems so. Exit polling shows the ruling Law and Justice party, which has steadily chipped away at democratic institutions, is suffering a dramatic upset. During its rule, the party has had a frosty relationship with its fellow European Union members. That may now change.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz is in Poland's capital, Warsaw. Hey there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the results so far?

SCHMITZ: Well, exit polls are showing that while the ruling Law and Justice party received the highest percentage of the vote at around 36%, that is not enough for them to form a government. And that's because the only other party that would form a coalition with Law and Justice did not get enough votes. So the left-center Civic Coalition, headed by former EU Council president and former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, is poised to form a coalition government with two other parties. And last night, Tusk declared victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TUSK: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: And, Steve, he's saying here, nobody can cheat us anymore. We have won back our democracy. We've won freedom, and we've won back our beloved Poland.

INSKEEP: I could hear the word democracy even in the Polish there. It's pretty clear.

SCHMITZ: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: So how has Law and Justice, the party that got a lot of votes but seems to have lost, responded?

SCHMITZ: Well, last night, the party head, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, congratulated his party for garnering the most votes. But he did acknowledge that his party would have a difficult time forming a government if the exit polls are correct.

INSKEEP: How are people responding otherwise?

SCHMITZ: Shock and jubilation, Steve. Political scientists I've spoken to here are all surprised by this result. They were not expecting this. Here's political analyst Adam Traczyk.

ADAM TRACZYK: This is a huge win for the Polish democracy and for the Polish society as well. I mean, we are looking at a turnout of 73%, which is a record-breaking figure, 10 percentage points higher than during the first free election of 1989. So this is a tremendous win for the whole country and for its citizens.

SCHMITZ: And, Steve, I want to underline something that he said here. Voter turnout yesterday was 73%. No election in Polish history has come even close to that, not even in 1989, when Poles voted out communists from government. Voters were in line at some polling stations until 3 in the morning this morning, and that says a lot about how fed up voters are of this current government.

INSKEEP: What made voters fed up?

SCHMITZ: Well, Law and Justice has spent the past eight years rigging the judicial system and public media to serve its purposes and to keep itself in power. And in 2020, this largely Catholic conservative government also banned abortion in Poland. And it's interesting, it was after that when Law and Justice's popularity began to slide. It slid from 42% to 35% and it never recovered. So in essence, the abortion ban was, for so many voters, the final straw.

INSKEEP: What would this imply for other countries, given that Poland is one of a lot of countries where it seemed that democratic norms were slipping?

SCHMITZ: Well, populism and nationalism are spreading throughout Europe. And should these results hold, it will show the world that this trend is not inevitable and that voters can put a stop to it, as they seem to have here in Poland. It will also mean that the European Union again has a close partner in Warsaw, and that the difficult work of restoring a democracy will begin again for the 40 million people here in Poland.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rob Schmitz. Thanks so much.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLOCKTANE, NESSEN, SOIBOI AND KAIROS' "SAILING THROUGH SPACE") 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.

A Martínez
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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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