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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is in Washington this week. He continues the conversation while Israel fights on two fronts, in Gaza and the border with Lebanon.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Gallant will meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Secretary of State Antony Blinken all at a time when his prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is at odds with the United States. Hadeel Al-Shalchi joins us this morning from Tel Aviv. Hadeel, welcome.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: OK. What is Gallant trying to do in Washington?

AL-SHALCHI: So the defense minister is expected to discuss the next phase of the war in Gaza and then the growing tensions on the Lebanese border. Even though the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court requested an arrest warrant for Gallant, the U.S. actually sees him as a close partner in Israel's right-wing government. Gallant has been vocal in demanding that Netanyahu come up with a day-after plan for Gaza that won't force Israel to be in charge, which is also something the Americans want.

INSKEEP: OK. So Gallant has been saying that, but Benjamin Netanyahu is the head of the governing coalition. Where does he stand now?

AL-SHALCHI: Exactly. So Netanyahu gave a long interview to Israeli TV yesterday where he said that the intense part of the fighting in Gaza is winding down and that he's willing to come to a partial deal with Hamas to release some of the hostages. But that would not mean the end of the war completely. And this seems to be contradictory to the deal that the Biden administration is trying to push. That proposal would lead to the end of the war and a return of the remaining hostage. Hamas said in a statement that Netanyahu's TV interview proves that Israel rejects the Biden administration's cease-fire proposal. Netanyahu also said that with the fighting slowing down in Gaza, Israel could pull some of those troops and send them to the Lebanese border because the focus is now shifting to the tensions with Hezbollah.

INSKEEP: Is the fighting actually slowing down in Gaza?

AL-SHALCHI: Well, absolutely not. The war has claimed right now lives of more than 37,000 Palestinians so far, and there were many deadly strikes over the weekend. Officials in Gaza said that 39 Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes on a refugee camp in the north. Israeli forces said that it was targeting a Hamas military site. And last week, at least 25 Palestinians were killed in strikes on tent encampments in Rafah. And the United Nations has said that nowhere is safe in Gaza, that it's been difficult to distribute aid there because of the fighting. And they've also said that public order has collapsed in Gaza. Palestinians are desperate for food and supplies to survive. And it's been difficult to distribute aid because of an increase in crime and looting.

INSKEEP: OK. So now we have to complicate this story because things are happening elsewhere in the region. I'll remind people, if you picture Israel on a map, Gaza is a territory that's down toward the south. Lebanon is up to the north. There has been violence and exchanges of fire back and forth across that border with Hezbollah on the northern side for months and months. What's happening now?

AL-SHALCHI: Right. Well, you summarize it very well, Steve. The thing on everyone's mind here is a new war starting with Lebanon, especially as there's a lot of pressure by Netanyahu's right-wing partners to launch an offensive in the north. Hezbollah, though, is much stronger than Hamas. The group started to fire at Israel on October 8 and the cross-border fire has been escalating since. And there's a bigger fear that a new front with Hezbollah would trigger a regional war pulling in Iran. American officials visited Lebanon and Israel last week trying to calm things down, but the U.S. has also said that it probably won't be able to help Israel in a broader war with Lebanon the way that it did in Gaza. And yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that could put American troops here at risk.

INSKEEP: American troops. NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi. Thanks very much for the update, really appreciate it.

AL-SHALCHI: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: All right, at least 19 people are dead and 25 more wounded after armed gunmen launched attacks on several religious sites in southern Russia.

INSKEEP: This is the region called Dagestan, which is a majority Muslim region, home to a diverse group of ethnicities and religious faiths and also home to Islamist extremism.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now to discuss it is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. So, Charles, what have you learned about this attack and how it happened?

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Yeah, good morning. You know, authorities here say these attacks were well-planned and coordinated, taking place near simultaneously in Dagestan's capital of Makhachkala as well as in the coastal city of Derbent. That's just to the south on the Caspian Sea. Within minutes, gunmen opened fire on a synagogue, which subsequently caught fire. It's worth noting that Dagestan has a small but ancient Jewish presence. The gunmen then also attacked a police traffic post and two orthodox Christian churches, killing a local priest. A witness video showed police subsequently engaged in a series of fire fights with the attackers. Local officials say officers make up the majority of confirmed casualties thus far, even though news reports suggest the number of dead and injured may grow.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. All right, the gunmen, have they been apprehended?

MAYNES: Well, as you might imagine, there's been quite a bit of confusion and conflicting reports over the past several hours. Here's what we do know. There was a manhunt for the gunmen last night, with all roads to Makhachkala - that's the capital, again - sealed off by security forces, and reports that several other gunmen had barricaded themselves in a building in Derbent. Now, as of this morning, authorities haven't provided any details other than to say that the active phase of a counterterrorist operation had ended. They say that five, some say perhaps six of the attackers had been liquidated while not answering the marquee question, out of how many to begin with?

MARTÍNEZ: So how are authorities, then, presenting theories as to who's behind this and why it happened?

MAYNES: Well, as you and Steve mentioned in the intro, you know, Dagestan is home to - has this history of Islamic fundamentalism, as does most of Russia's Northern Caucasus region. And the fact that these attackers struck a church and a synagogue in particular will raise eyebrows. There was an ugly episode in Dagestan last fall - this was in the wake of the start of the war in Gaza - where rioters rampaged through Makhachkala's airport looking for Jewish passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv. That said, this morning, the governor of Dagestan, Sergei Melikov, issued a video on social media saying the gunmen's goal was to divide Russian society. And he suggested authorities knew who ordered the assault but are keeping it under wraps for now. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SERGEI MELIKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

MAYNES: So here, Melikov says investigators are working to identify all the participants in the attack, which he says without question was in part prepared from abroad.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, that sounds a little like how Russian authorities reacted to that attack on a concert hall in Moscow earlier this year.

MAYNES: You know, it does, it does. And to remind people, this was when several gunmen stormed a concert venue in Moscow and set fire to the premises. Over 140 people died. A branch of the Islamic State later claimed responsibility. But Russian authorities, including President Vladimir Putin, repeatedly insisted Ukraine and the West instigated the attack, paying these men to slaughter Russian civilians. And so, with this case in Dagestan, it's still early days, but we'll be washing to see if authorities take a similar line. All we know for sure is that Russia's investigative committee has launched a criminal investigation into what they're calling acts of terror.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thank you very much.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: We have an update now on the fight over abortion two years to the day after the Supreme Court ended a constitutional right to it.

MARTÍNEZ: States have debated the issue ever since. Some already had laws that instantly banned the procedure, Republican-dominated legislatures soon added to them. Many women have described dramatic changes in access, among them, Lauren Miller of Texas, who testified before Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAUREN MILLER: A 15-minute procedure that could've been done three miles from my house took several thousand dollars and three days.

MARTÍNEZ: Also, since the court ruling, voters have turned aside some efforts to restrict abortion, including in more conservative states such as Ohio and Kansas.

INSKEEP: The overall effect on abortion in this country is surprising. NPR's Elissa Nadworny covers reproductive rights and is on the line. Good morning.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, what's the surprise?

NADWORNY: Well, the number of abortions is actually up across the U.S. It is true that access is a lot harder. Fourteen states have near total abortion bans and many others have restrictions on time limits. You know, it's actually been a time of chaos and confusion because there are a lot of new laws and then legal challenges, so it's hard to know what the law is where you live. And yet abortions are up.

INSKEEP: Well, why, given all that you just said, would the number of abortions grow over the past two years?

NADWORNY: Yeah, so it really has to do with how people access abortions. More than half are with medication, and there's been a major rise in telehealth. So you don't have to go in person to get treated. You could get pills in the mail. Even people in banned states can access pills from providers in places like Massachusetts and New York, where they have laws that allow them to send pills to places like Texas or Mississippi.

INSKEEP: And give them some legal protections, at least in their own states. OK, so it sounds like people in the banned states still get abortions. What else is happening in those states?

NADWORNY: Well, in states with bans most clinics have closed, and in their place, crisis pregnancy centers, often with an anti-abortion agenda, have sprung up. Jenice Fountain runs a reproductive justice organization in Alabama, where there is a total abortion ban.

JENICE FOUNTAIN: So in Alabama, some things that I have noticed, there's a lot of folks that are birthing now that are like, I would've rather terminate it and, like, you know, birthed later on in life or not at all again.

NADWORNY: So more women are having children.

INSKEEP: OK, so that is also happening. Many different trends here. What about people who are traveling out of state for an abortion?

NADWORNY: Yes, that's definitely happening and makes up about a fifth of all abortions. Last year, 171,000 patients traveled out of state. That's according to data out this month from the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion. Lauren Miller, that mom from Dallas you heard earlier, she was pregnant with twins. Her doctors told her that one twin wasn't viable and was threatening the life of the other twin and making Lauren really sick. But her doctors were unable to do what's called a single fetal reduction because the state has multiple laws banning abortion. Miller testified on Capitol Hill earlier this month about having to go to Colorado to get the procedure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MILLER: The bounty laws in Texas had us worrying about who could turn against us. Was it safer to attempt 12 hours in a car through rural Texas while I was violently ill? What if I got worse? We knew flying was faster, but what if I was pulled out of the security line and questioned or not allowed on the flight because I was too sick? Should we leave our cellphones at home and rely only on cash to prevent being tracked?

INSKEEP: OK, so that's the testimony. What are you watching for in the months to come?

NADWORNY: Well, first, abortion could be on the ballot this fall in as many as 10 states. And then I'm looking for themes. So efforts to limit travel across state lines - Idaho and Tennessee have passed laws criminalizing adults who support minors seeking abortion care in other states - and along those lines, efforts to limit medications used in abortion. The Supreme Court held off a challenge to the way mifepristone was approved by the FDA, but we could see additional legal challenges. And there's another Supreme Court decision expected as early as this week about access to abortion in emergency room situations. And then, you know, Steve, finally, we're seeing ideas around reproductive rights that were once more fringe edge into the mainstream, so things like criminalizing abortion seekers and opposing IVF. So I will be watching all that.

INSKEEP: Elissa, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

NADWORNY: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Elissa Nadworny, who covers reproductive rights. 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 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.