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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israel's offensive in Gaza continues with new airstrikes and more evacuation orders. Israel says it seeks to destroy Hamas wherever it is - this in response to the October 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people. Hamas continues to hold more than 100 hostages in Gaza.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yesterday, an airstrike hit a home in the southern city of Rafah, killing at least 21 people, according to health officials and witnesses. This is the region of Gaza where Israeli officials have told Palestinians to go for safety, and the exchange of fire across Israel's northern border with Lebanon has heated up too, as well as fears of a widening war.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Tel Aviv, and she's here with us to bring us up to date. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So I understand that Israel has ordered more evacuations in Gaza. What can you tell us about that?

KAHN: The war is not slowing down. Israel says it is engaging in intense combat with Hamas militants in northern and central Gaza. It continues to issue evacuation orders from those areas. Eighty-five percent of the population in Gaza now has been displaced. That's about 2 million people, Michel. One Israeli American hostage, a 70-year-old woman, died in Gaza, according to her family. President Biden sent condolences to her loved ones.

MARTIN: And what have you learned about this latest strike in the southern city of Rafah?

KAHN: A home was hit in a Rafah neighborhood by rocket fire. The casualty count is high. NPR is seeking comment from the military. NPR's producer in Gaza, Anas Baba, went to the Kuwaiti hospital where the injured and dead were taken after the strike, and he narrated to us what he saw. Michel, I just want to warn listeners what he describes are disturbing images.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: The casualties and the wounded are keep reaching the ER nonstop. The majority are children and small babies. One of them was a pregnant woman, and she was begging the doctor to check on her baby inside of her belly. The doctor told her, my priority is you now, not your baby. A woman with all of her face is just, like, covered in dust, white dust, laying on the wall and just crying. Dead bodies all over the place.

KAHN: It was a very chaotic scene there last night. I want to give you a quick update from earlier reporting about Israeli airstrikes. In a statement, Israeli military officials addressed two strikes that happened on December 24. That killed more than 100 people, according to the Associated Press. The military said in a statement, quote, "it regrets the harm to uninvolved individuals and is working to draw lessons from the incident." The death toll in Gaza, according to health officials there, now tops 21,000 Palestinians.

MARTIN: So in recent days, the militant group Hezbollah and Israel have exchanged fire at targets across the border. Is there concern that this is opening another front in this war?

KAHN: Yes. They've been firing at each other every day this week, including several times this morning. Former defense minister and a member of Israeli's war cabinet, Benny Gantz, sent this warning to Hezbollah.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNY GANTZ: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: Gantz said, "Time for a diplomatic solution with Hezbollah is running out." It wants Hezbollah forces to retreat further north, farther away from the Israeli border. And if not, he said, Israel will act. Tens of thousands of Israelis that live close to the border, the northern border there, have been relocated.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tel Aviv. Carrie, thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Polish truckers and transport business owners are blocking border traffic at the border between Poland and Ukraine. They are protesting the removal of limits on how many Ukrainian drivers and businesses can come to Poland and the EU.

MARTÍNEZ: After more than a year of essentially free movement into Poland, Polish drivers are struggling to compete, and this protest is souring a once extremely supportive neighborly relationship between the two countries.

MARTIN: The new Polish prime minister is planning a trip to Kyiv and says this blockade will be on the agenda. We're turning now to Elissa Nadworny, who is at one of these blocked border crossings. Good morning, Elissa.

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So could you just start by telling us exactly where you are and what you've been seeing there?

NADWORNY: So I'm at the Dorohusk border crossing between Ukraine and Poland. It's one of a handful of border crossings that process these big trucks. And protesters here are limiting the number of trucks that can cross an hour. It ranges from one to five, kind of depending on the day and the mood. There are some exceptions that we've been able to see. Military and humanitarian aid are getting to pass through, but the rest - they have to wait. And that means the line here of Ukrainian trucks is about a thousand at the moment. It's just, as far as the eye can see, backed up more than 20 miles, and drivers wait weeks.

MARTIN: Wow. A thousand trucks waiting to cross - that's something. So what specifically do these protesters want, the Polish protesters? What do they want?

NADWORNY: Well, before the war, there was a permit system for drivers, and Poland and Ukraine got equal numbers. After Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU suspended that permit system to help Ukraine keep the economy afloat, and the number of trucks shot up, of course, with most of those drivers being Ukrainian. And the Poles, they want that permit system back. So remember, Poland is Ukraine's main connection to Europe. There are no flights in and out of Ukraine. The Black Sea is mined, so this land border is essential. Last night Leszek Stasik (ph) was manning the blockade. He's a Polish business holder (ph), holding up Ukrainian drivers, and he's been here at night in the cold for months. He says this is a fight for his existence.

LESZEK STASIK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He owns a small company with his son. They have five trucks, and business has really suffered, he says.

STASIK: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: He says Ukrainian drivers, they drive around like they're members of the EU like us, and they take away our bread. They take away our work. He says waiting for weeks at a border crossing - that's just the job of a trucker. And he's done that plenty, he says, in his decades of being a driver himself.

MARTIN: So what are the Ukrainian drivers telling you?

NADWORNY: Well, you know, the ones at the front of the line have been here for almost two weeks, and many of them can't believe that this is happening right now while Ukraine is at war. Imports to Ukraine are way down, and that impacts taxes and ultimately the war effort because everything is connected. We talked with a man named Yaroslav (ph), waiting to cross. He's a Ukrainian truck driver. He's got a load of furniture, and he's been here at this border for 14 days, running out of water, food and money.

YAROSLAV: (Non-English language spoken).

YAROSLAV: He's saying if the Poles are striking, don't let us come into Poland. But why are you not letting me go home? You know, other drivers told us similar sentiments. One said, go block the Parliament in Warsaw. Leave us here at the border out of it. Of course, protesters actually did that back in the spring, Michel, and it didn't work. So they started the protest here.

MARTIN: Well, is there a strategy for bringing this to an end?

NADWORNY: Well, Poland does have a new government, so there's a chance they're going to work with Ukrainian officials in the EU to figure out a compromise, to try and keep both sides happy. Protesters are telling us they're going to be here for the long haul, and Ukrainian truckers are saying, we're actually going to keep coming back despite the wait.

MARTIN: That is Elissa Nadworny. She's at the border between Poland and Ukraine. Thanks, Elissa.

NADWORNY: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: A federal judge has approved Georgia's newly revised political maps.

MARTÍNEZ: Republican lawmakers drew new districts for Congress and the state legislature after the judge found the old ones illegally diluted the power of Black voters. But the civil rights and religious groups who sued over the maps say the new ones still violate the Voting Rights Act.

MARTIN: WABE's Sam Gringlas has been following this story for us from Atlanta. Sam, good morning.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So first, would you just - would you mind just reminding us of how we got here?

GRINGLAS: This fall, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia's Republican-controlled legislature to create one new majority Black congressional district. Now, many people thought that meant Democrats would gain a seat in Congress, like what happened next door in Alabama, where the courts ordered that map redrawn. But instead, Republicans have managed to preserve their 9-5 advantage in Congress by dismantling a Democratic-voting coalition district in suburban Atlanta. This was a district where Black, Latino and Asian American voters together formed a majority, and now they are split up.

MARTIN: So I imagine that Democrats are frustrated by this ruling, to put it mildly.

GRINGLAS: Yeah. Democrats say they are deeply disappointed and called it a missed opportunity. And for many of them, this fight has been very personal. At the state Capitol earlier this month, State Representative Teddy Reese talked about his grandmother, who was born three decades before the Voting Rights Act.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TEDDY REESE: And she said to me, son, I cleaned floors on my hands and my knees so that you could stand on the House floor of the state Capitol. But that is not possible if all people are not given opportunity to elect those that look like them. We were not ordered back here by Judge Jones to maintain the status quo. We were ordered here to change Georgia's maps so that they reflect the inevitable shift in Georgia's population.

GRINGLAS: A population, Michel, that is diversifying and making Georgia elections more competitive.

MARTIN: But the judge disagreed. I take it that he said that Republicans did the job of adding a Black congressional district.

GRINGLAS: That's right. Judge Jones, an Obama appointee, concluded that lawmakers followed his order. Now, as for whether multiracial coalition districts are protected by the Voting Rights Act, Jones declined to weigh in. He said this case only ever considered Black voters, and any other questions should be argued in another case. Republicans - they cheered that decision and said the judge affirmed what they have been saying all along, that their new maps comply with the Voting Rights Act.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, Sam, describe how the fight in Georgia fits in with all these other redistricting cases in the courts right now.

GRINGLAS: This is a moment when conservatives are testing the bounds of the Voting Rights Act. I talked with Northwestern University law professor Michael Kang, and he says conservatives see an opportunity to narrow the act at a time when it really should be read more expansively, like to protect these multiracial districts, such as the one that's been dismantled in Georgia.

MICHAEL KANG: I think we're in a moment of change for the Voting Rights Act and for race in American politics. We're seeing an increasingly multiracial democracy that the voting rights law that we have wasn't really built to handle very well.

GRINGLAS: But more immediately, which party controls the next Congress is on the line. And with margins so thin, Michel, the shape of every district matters.

MARTIN: That is WABE's Sam Gringlas. Sam, thank you.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: One more thing before we go - in Maine, the secretary of state says former President Donald Trump is not qualified to appear on the state's primary ballot next year.

MARTIN: The decision is based on his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. The ruling cites the so-called insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment, disqualifying those who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding office. It was originally written post-Civil War to prevent Confederate rebels from holding elected office. Colorado and Michigan have also ruled on this issue, and there are similar cases still pending in other states. 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.

Corrected: December 28, 2023 at 10:00 PM MST
A production error in an earlier audio version of the story led to the incorrect identifications of a Polish protester and a Ukrainian driver.
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.
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.