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Morning News Brief

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There were cheers on the streets of the Gaza Strip last night.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Palestinians are celebrating the start of a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, in which both sides are claiming victory. Here's what that victory looks like - 11 days of rockets flying out of Gaza, 11 days of Israeli bombs striking Gaza. Palestinian officials say more than 243 people were killed, 66 of them children. In Gaza, hundreds of buildings were destroyed. And in Israel, authorities say Hamas rockets killed 12 people, including two children.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us from Jerusalem. Daniel, thanks for being there. First off, is the cease-fire holding at this point?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It is. The two sides are calling it quiet for quiet, which means both agree to stop firing, but if one side breaks a cease-fire, the other responds. And officials say that probably in a few days, there will be negotiations about the terms. Egypt called the cease-fire at 2 a.m. local time. That's when it was supposed to start. And right up to the deadline, there were strikes. The last Israeli strike was heard around 1 a.m. The last Palestinian rocket fire was around 1:50 a.m. And then right at 2 a.m., Palestinians went into the streets in Gaza, celebrated, also in the West Bank. Also at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, worshippers chanted and praised Hamas. And right away in Gaza, thousands of people who had sought shelter in U.N. buildings load up their trucks and drive home. We have not seen celebration gatherings among Israelis, but many Israelis, you know, have been up at night in protected rooms, a lot of air raid sirens in the middle of the night. And finally, they could get a little bit more sleep.

MARTIN: As Steve noted, both sides are declaring victory here. I mean, they can say whatever they want, but what's the reality?

ESTRIN: Well, the reality is both sides are trying to sell this as a victory to their own people who have suffered tremendously under the last 11 days. In Gaza, Hamas held a rally in the middle of the night on the street where the most devastating Israeli strikes took place, where whole extended families were killed. A Hamas leader said this is one of our biggest victories ever. Thank you, citizens. You are our swords for Jerusalem. Hamas is hoping it will regain popularity that it's lost in recent years. And many people really were cheering for Hamas. But my colleague in Gaza spoke to one man, Mahmoud Matar (ph), who had a different take. Let's listen.

MAHMOUD MATAR: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He was saying, I don't feel good at all. He was surveying the damage for the first time on that street. He said people invested their whole lives building up these homes that were wiped out in seconds. He was placing blame with everyone. Now, just a word about Israel. The defense minister said Israel had unprecedented military achievements. He did not elaborate. And my colleague Becky Sullivan met an Israeli woman this morning, Sheila Bronner (ph), who was asking questions.

SHEILA BRONNER: I think it's best for both sides because it's going to be the same, like, in next year or something, four years maximum.

MARTIN: So people are already anticipating more violence in the future. I mean, let's just talk about the situation on the ground in Gaza now. I mean, multiple buildings reduced to rubble, as you say, extended families killed. What kind of immediate needs do people there face?

ESTRIN: They face medical needs. We're talking about over 1,700 people wounded, according to Gaza officials, 1,800 homes and apartments totally destroyed, huge damage to sewage, roads, water pipelines, electricity, industrial facilities. And don't forget COVID. Their only testing lab stopped working. One of their top COVID doctors was killed.

MARTIN: So let's talk for a second about what that woman mentioned, this fear that this could just happen again and again. I mean, they fought for 50 days in 2014.

ESTRIN: That's right. The big question here is, will the mediators bring some kind of political solution. Until that, I don't think people on either side are going to see any future here for their children.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Here at home, the conflict in the Middle East erupted into one of the biggest public disagreements between President Biden and the progressive wing of his party.

INSKEEP: The president said yesterday afternoon that his administration had worked for days to promote the cease-fire.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end.

INSKEEP: Biden was working under some pressure at home because Democrats and Republicans are shifting a little bit. They've steadily supported Israel for generations, but the latest war was an occasion for people on the political left to push the Democratic Party to rethink that relationship.

MARTIN: Let's talk about this with NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hello. Good morning.

MARTIN: How would you characterize President Biden's response to this crisis?

KHALID: Well, the White House, you know, had been insisting that quiet, behind-the-scenes diplomacy was the most effective approach here. And perhaps they seem somewhat validated in that approach, given that there was a relatively quick, if tentative, resolution. But look, Rachel, this low-key public approach to me is also indicative of the fact that this entrenched conflict is not a top priority for Biden. And this White House in particular is resistant to having external events take their agenda off course. In his remarks last night, Biden did not really suggest any major shifts when it came to how Democrats think about Israel. He reiterated the United States' support for Israel. He pledged to help rebuild the Iron Dome defense system, which had, you know, prevented many of the Hamas rockets from getting through. He did also pledge to support U.N. efforts to help rebuild Gaza.

MARTIN: That's not enough for some progressives who have really been pushing him, as we've noted, to be more vocal about support for Palestinians. What does that tell us about where the Democratic Party is right now?

KHALID: Yeah, I mean, Rachel, there is no question that Biden faced significant pressure from the left this time, perhaps more than ever before that we've seen in Democratic circles. And part of this is about domestic politics. Part of this is also about Israeli politics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraced the American right, and they have embraced him back over the years. I spoke with Ben Rhodes, a former adviser to President Obama, who pointed out that Democrats used to say that they support Israel and they support a two-state solution but that that, you know, sort of dual response has become a harder balance since the peace process has stalled. And, you know, a two-state solution for some doesn't even seem like a feasible solution at this point. You know, tied to all of this and extremely important in understanding what's going on is that there has been a sea change in the Democratic Party in the growing power of social justice movements. Black Lives Matter activists and other folks on the left, many of them see themselves aligned in their causes with the struggle that Palestinians have been fighting for.

MARTIN: I mean, this is the tension - right? - because President Biden used his campaign to central social justice issues, but he has maintained steady support for Israel, which progressives see as kind of contradictory positions. What effect is that having?

KHALID: You know, absolutely, Rachel. This is perhaps the most public disagreement to date between the left and Biden. And a cease-fire is not sufficient to them. There is still a fight over an arms sale to Israel that Biden has approved. You know, one point of frustration is that progressives feel like they've pushed Biden on climate change and racial justice, but they haven't been able to here.

MARTIN: NPR's Asma Khalid, thank you so much.

KHALID: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: All right. The Biden administration is now caring for almost 20,000 migrant children who came to the U.S. without their parents.

INSKEEP: Most of them are staying in emergency shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Advocates are growing concerned about reports on their living conditions, including limited access to showers or clean clothes and sometimes undercooked food.

MARTIN: White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has been talking to them, and he joins us now. Franco, thanks for being here.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: So at first, with the surge in migrant kids this year, the concern was really where they were being held - right? - these detention facilities that often looked like cages. What's changed, if anything, on that front?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. So the first concern was getting kids out of those jail-like facilities. A lot of the new places are better, but they're still less than ideal. There are convention centers in San Diego and Dallas and other big places. I talked to Leecia Welch. She's an attorney at the nonprofit National Center for Youth Law, whose team has interviewed about 100 of these kids. She said she saw children experiencing real trauma, and the care is just not good enough.

LEECIA WELCH: From my perspective as a child advocate and as a mom, when you've got 2,300 kids sleeping in the same massive conference room and they're only getting a few minutes of fresh air a day while they're waiting to take a shower in the loading dock, and it's going on for months, I mean, it's just - the government is just not living up to an acceptable standard of care.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, she's talking about conditions in Dallas there. And one of the problems is there are not enough caseworkers working on finding families and vetting sponsors. So kids are staying there longer than they should.

MARTIN: What are lawyers, what are advocates like those, what are they doing about it?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, they're looking at the situation very carefully and weighing their options. But one says it's a Catch-22. I talked to Peter Schey. He was a lawyer behind the Flores settlement. That's the court case that years ago determined the conditions for holding these kids. But he worries that pursuing the case could backfire.

PETER SCHEY: The suggestion has been made to us that it may respond by simply changing part of its policy, for example, by saying, well, no, we will only allow children to enter the United States to make their claims if they're, let's say, 14 years of age or younger. If they're 15, 16 or 17, we will remove them just the way the Trump administration removed them.

ORDOÑEZ: And he told me he wouldn't want to be responsible for older teens being told, no, you can't come across the border and have them end up on the streets in Mexico. I did ask the Justice Department about this, and they declined to comment.

MARTIN: So I imagine this all leaves the Biden administration in a tough position. Have they responded to the reports about conditions in these places for these children?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. A senior administration official, you know, has defended the shelters and told me there's a high standard of care there. Health and Human Services told me they notify Flores lawyers about every new shelter and welcome them to visit. And they say they're working to increase the number of licensed beds. You know, I also spoke with Leon Fresco, who worked on this issue for the Justice Department. He says Schey is technically right, the facilities should be licensed. But he said there's some leeway under the law to give extra time during emergency conditions, like a search. You know, he says there's no easy choices but that the shelters are the best alternative until you can move the kids to their parents or other family.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thank you so much for this.

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