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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

President Biden says Israel and Hamas have extended their cease-fire in Gaza by another two days, paving the way for more exchanges of hostages and prisoners.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since the cease-fire began, at least 50 Israelis taken by Hamas on October 7 have been returned to Israel. Nineteen foreign hostages, mostly from Thailand, have also been released. And 150 Palestinian prisoners have been released by Israel and allowed to return to their homes.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Israelis and Palestinians are waiting to see how much longer the cease-fire will last and how many more hostages and prisoners will go home. Joining us now with more is NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, the cease-fire has been extended by another two days. How many more people might be freed?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, Israel's offer is for every 10 Israelis released, Israel will release 30 Palestinians and extend the cease-fire another day. So over the next two days, we're expecting 20 Israelis and 60 Palestinians to be freed. And we're going to have to see if more foreign nationals, like Thai guest workers, are released, as well, in separate deals.

MARTÍNEZ: Any chance that this cease-fire could be extended even longer past just today and tomorrow?

ESTRIN: There is a chance. I mean, Israel has capped this cease-fire at 10 days max, and we are on day five. But if Hamas does keep offering up more hostages to be released, we'll have to see if Israel does consider extending the cease-fire. Israel says it's willing to release one very prominent Palestinian detainee, Ahed Tamimi. She is an icon for Palestinian defiance against Israel, as Palestinians see her. A few years ago, she was a teen. She was imprisoned for slapping Israeli soldiers. And a few weeks ago, she was detained by Israel on suspicion of incitement and support of terror, according to Israel, apparently for hate speech on social media, which her family denies. So we are also hearing in Israel a lot of worry about this whole process.

You know, the longer the war is delayed to release hostages and to exchange them for prisoners in Israel, will it be hard to resume Israel's military assaults against Hamas, to try to eradicate Hamas in Gaza? It's an incredibly emotional time for Israelis seeing this whole process. For example, yesterday, mothers and children were released, but their fathers are still being held in Gaza, and there's no prospect yet for releasing them. And there's also a lot of anger boiling over in Israel over multiple media reports alleging that Israeli leaders ignored intelligence warnings about the Hamas attack on October 7.

ESTRIN: Yeah. Israel has said from the beginning, Daniel, that they are committed to crushing Hamas and ending its rule in Gaza. So thinking about a cease-fire to - kind of doesn't square that a cease-fire could continue if they plan to stick to that. All right. But each day the cease-fire is extended means one more day without war. And that's got to be a huge relief to the Gazans, who have suffered immense losses for seven weeks straight. Daniel, what are you hearing from them?

ESTRIN: Well, people in Gaza are telling us that, you know, they're seeing hundreds of aid trucks coming into Gaza now for the United Nations to distribute, but they personally are not feeling the impact yet in their own lives. Our producer there, Anas Baba, has observed long lines of people trying to fill up cooking gas. There's not enough to go around and really to supply people's basic needs - food, bread, water. Nearly 80% of the population in Gaza is displaced from their homes, according to the U.N., and they're saying that diseases are spreading in shelters. So the Biden administration is calling on Israel to allow increased humanitarian aid to Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is coming to the region to push that, and also to bring up the elephant in the room. What's going to be the future of Gaza the day after the war?

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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MARTÍNEZ: Authorities are investigating whether the shooting of three young men of Palestinian descent in Vermont was a hate crime.

MARTIN: A 48-year-old man is being held in jail. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder. Local law enforcement is working with the Justice Department on the investigation.

MARTÍNEZ: Vermont Public's Brittany Patterson is covering this. Brittany, tell us what happened last week.

BRITTANY PATTERSON, BYLINE: Sure. So authorities say the three college students were visiting one of the victim's relatives here in Vermont over the Thanksgiving break, something they had done before. And they were doing typical college student break things, hanging out, eating, relaxing. Early on Saturday evening, the men were walking down a residential street, and two of them were wearing the traditional Palestinian scarf. They were speaking a mixture of English and Arabic, and authorities say they were confronted by a white man with a handgun. Police say Jason Eaton did not speak before opening fire.

MARTÍNEZ: Who are the victims, and how are they doing?

PATTERSON: Yeah, we've learned a lot more about these young men in recent days. One of them is Hisham Awartani. He goes to Brown University in Rhode Island. He's a math and archeology major. Kinnan Abdalhamid attends Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He's studying biology. He runs track. And Tahseen Ahmed goes to Trinity College in Connecticut. He's also a math major. He's also pre-med and recently qualified to be an EMT. These boys have been friends for 12 years. They went to Quaker school together in the West Bank. And their family describes them as polite, generous, the brightest of the bright. You know, they did model U.N. together. The family said yesterday that they were grateful for the charges, but they fear that the young men were targeted for being Arab Americans. Elizabeth Price is Hisham's mom, and she spoke to NPR from her home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

ELIZABETH PRICE: My husband didn't want Hisham to come back for Christmas because he thought America would be safe, safer than Palestine. And my husband is so bitter. He was worried about the boys being targeted as being Palestinian, but he thought in Burlington, that wouldn't happen.

PATTERSON: As of yesterday, all of the men remained in the ICU. Hisham's family said that the doctors told them it's unlikely he will be able to use his legs again. And I'll note Burlington's mayor spoke with President Joe Biden yesterday, who also pledged additional federal resources.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. We know that authorities haven't revealed the suspect's motive, but they are investigating all of this as a possible hate crime?

PATTERSON: They are. And I want to note Vermont doesn't have a stand-alone hate crime charge. Instead, prosecutors can add what they call as a hate crime enhancement. And that's if the suspect's actions, they believe, are motivated by bias toward a protected class like race. And the bar is really high with these hate crime enhancements. The state has to prove intent beyond a reasonable doubt. They need a lot of evidence. And authorities say that may not happen. If added to a charge, one of these enhancements could increase the criminal penalties that a suspect faces, although I'll note in this case, the suspect, Eaton, already faces 20 to life for each of those attempted murder charges. So a state hate crime charge in this case wouldn't affect his sentence. And federal prosecutors could also bring a hate crime charge.

MARTÍNEZ: And with Eaton, the suspect, how did he get the gun?

PATTERSON: You know, so we learned a little more about him yesterday. Eaton himself is new to Vermont, according to authorities. Police say they've only had one interaction with him. It was a traffic stop, and there was nothing to note. And we learned that he purchased the gun legally a few months ago through a licensed firearms dealer in the state, and that sale was not flagged.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, that's Vermont Public's Brittany Patterson. Brittany, thanks.

PATTERSON: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: All right. There are now fewer than 50 days until the Iowa caucuses. That's when Republican voters will make their first choices in the 2024 race for their presidential nominee.

MARTIN: The once-crowded field of Republicans has shrunk, and the remaining candidates are trailing far behind Donald Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters is here to give us an update. Clay, I was in Iowa three weeks ago. And back then, Trump had a big lead over the rest of the field. It sounds like not much has changed.

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: That's right. Good morning. Not much has changed other than this crowded field we saw take shape over the spring and summer is winnowing. Former Vice President Mike Pence got out, and so did South Carolina Senator Tim Scott. Former President Donald Trump also indicated in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a couple of weeks ago that a big win in Iowa could really help clear the field for him early.

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DONALD TRUMP: We have to send a great signal, and then maybe these people just say, OK, it's over now. It's over. We got to end it because we have to focus on crooked Joe Biden and the Democrats.

MASTERS: So this is really unlike any caucus I've seen. You just don't usually have one candidate so far ahead throughout the entire cycle. None of the other candidates, including those who are battling over second place - I'm talking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley - are coming anywhere near Trump's support in the state. And another thing that makes this one so different is you have the current governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, endorsing a candidate ahead of the caucuses. This is a big rarity, and she's backing DeSantis because she says Trump can't win in a general election.

MARTÍNEZ: Thing is, though, politicians are still going to Iowa. So who are they trying to win over?

MASTERS: We can get specific here. Evangelical Christians - they take up an outsized role in Iowa's Republican electorate, much larger than the party as a whole. And they really back Trump. But some evangelical leaders see opportunity. The Family Leader, this evangelical Christian group that wields a lot of power in Iowa, held a Thanksgiving family forum. DeSantis, Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy were there. I should note Trump was invited but did not show up. And DeSantis tried to set himself apart from Trump to sway those potentially swingable voters.

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RON DESANTIS: I'm going to be focused on your issues. I'm going to be a disciplined and focused leader in a way that, obviously, Donald Trump is not in a position to be able to do that. So I view his candidacy as high risk with low reward.

MASTERS: After that forum, the head of The Family Leader, Bob Vander Plaats, who's historically known for endorsing the eventual caucus winner, came out in support of DeSantis, again saying he doesn't believe Trump can win in a general election. And that's the thing, right, A? Very few in the Republican Party are saying, we don't want Trump to be the nominee because he's facing felony charges to try and overturn the last election or the threat he may pose to democracy. It's we don't think he can win.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And less than 50 days to go, as I mentioned. The caucus is, in case anyone's wondering, January 15.. So mark that day on your calendar. What's left? I mean, what are you expecting, Clay?

MASTERS: Caucusgoers reward those politicians who show up in the state a lot. DeSantis plans to complete his 99-county tour of Iowa with a stop in the small town of Newton over this weekend. All these campaigns are hoping for a big turnout. With the race seen as a foregone conclusion by many, there might be some fatigue for voters who may not want to go out on a cold night, you know, before school and work the next day. But campaigns aren't the only ones who want those church basements and school gyms full. The Republican Party here wants to keep making the case for Iowa to go first in 2028, especially when you might remember national Democrats have indicated that they're done with the Iowa caucuses moving forward.

MARTÍNEZ: When I was there, Clay, it was 45 degrees in Iowa. People were out on Election Day in T-shirts. So I (laughter) think they'll be fine. Clay Masters of Iowa Public Radio. Clay, thanks.

MASTERS: You're welcome. It's even colder now. 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
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, 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
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.