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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The declared war between Israel and Hamas has entered its fifth day, and the death toll has reached more than 2,000 people that we know of. More than 1,200 Israelis are known dead after that surprise attack by Hamas fighters over the weekend. That attack has prompted a massive military response by Israel that has included some 1,300 airstrikes on Gaza. Authorities there say at least a thousand have been killed.

I'm going to go to my colleague Leila Fadel because you're in Jerusalem now. Leila, do you get the impression that this conflict will further escalate?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. There really feels like there is no question that it will escalate. The Israeli military has said it's secured the border, and it appears they are now preparing for a ground invasion into Gaza that will, quote, "change the reality" there. And there's been no cessation of rockets coming in from Gaza. According to the Israeli military, the first plane carrying advanced U.S. armaments since this war broke out had landed in Israel.

Meanwhile, every day, we hear new accounts of what are being described as massacres in locations across the south of Israel - the latest, a kibbutz called Kfar Azza that was retaken by Israeli forces. And inside, they found bodies of civilians in their homes and strewn in the streets, along with bodies of Hamas militants who came into these towns armed. The stories of the killings are really hard to hear - hundreds of young partygoers at a rave, a pro-peace academic, a grandmother.

And, of course, Michel, as you know, it's much harder to tell the stories out of Gaza because journalists who weren't already there aren't allowed in now, and civilians are trapped. Gaza is under a new siege that has cut off food, fuel, water and electricity. Israeli airstrikes had wiped out parts of entire families in what the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem calls a, quote, "criminal policy of revenge."

MARTIN: And we understand that there are still some 150 hostages that were believed to have been forcibly taken to Gaza.

FADEL: Yeah. It feels like everyone here is one to two degrees of separation away from someone that's missing. In text chats, on social media, families are frantically trying to find any information about their loved ones. And that's how I ended up at the home of Ido Dan north of Tel Aviv. He says his family members disappeared on the day Hamas militants breached the Israeli border and killed so many inside Israel. By the end of the day, his aunt Carmela Dan, three of her grandchildren and the father of two of the children were gone. Dan searched for clues online about what happened to Carmela, her granddaughter, Sahar Kalderon, Sahar's brother, Erez, the children's father, Ofer, and another granddaughter of Carmela's with special needs named Noya Dan. And while he says he's praying that their value as a bargaining chip will keep them alive, he's just not sure what Hamas might do after the attack this weekend.

IDO DAN: Maybe we should recalculate all our predictions and assumptions about Hamas because it's totally different this time. In many ways, I think that Hamas is ISIS. We saw such killings and murders and ruthless humiliation of bodies - we saw it only with ISIS.

MARTIN: Leila, what about that? Has something changed with Hamas?

FADEL: Well, Hamas was notorious for suicide bombings on buses in the 2000s, but those were small-scale operations compared to this highly choreographed invasion by over a thousand fighters. Their rockets have gotten deadlier and more long range. And Israeli officials are now frequently comparing it to ISIS, which they didn't in the past. The president also said this. Hamas does run Gaza. They have a prime minister. They have relations with other countries. And Israel would want to see them isolated.

MARTIN: Leila, thanks so much for your reporting.

FADEL: Thanks, Michel.

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MARTIN: President Biden has had a series of calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since Hamas launched its attack.

FADEL: And yesterday, after his latest call, he delivered an unequivocal message that there was no justification for the atrocities.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The brutality of Hamas - this bloodthirstiness - brings to mind the worst rampages of ISIS. This is terrorism. But sadly, for the Jewish people, it's not new.

FADEL: And Biden says he plans to ask Congress for more funding for Israel's national security needs.

MARTIN: NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now to tell us more about all this. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the president went into some graphic detail in his remarks describing what happened during the attacks on Israel. What do you think he was trying to underscore there?

KEITH: It was really notable coming from Biden. He used words like slaughtered, butchered, massacred and went into detail about the nature of what he said were sickening atrocities. Hamas, he said, does not stand for the Palestinian cause. Hamas stands for ending the state of Israel and murdering Jewish people. And he said that there was no justification for the attacks.

And to answer your questions, what it seems like he was doing here was telling Americans in no uncertain terms that this was terrorism. This wasn't war in any traditional sense, and it wasn't far away or abstract. Americans should be outraged, he was arguing. And he also noted that Americans are among the dead and those held hostage.

MARTIN: I do have to say, though, that there is still concern among, you know, some in the United States - I mean, some might say particularly among, you know, progressives - about how Israel is going to respond in Gaza as it seeks to root out Hamas. Did the president address those concerns?

KEITH: He said that Israel has the right and the duty to respond to the attack, but he did draw a distinction about targeting civilians, about following international laws of war. And he said he talked about this with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu.

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BIDEN: I told him if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming. We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law.

KEITH: His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, later confirmed to reporters that the U.S. is talking to Egypt and others about providing safe passage for Palestinian civilians who live in Gaza and who are at the moment completely trapped.

MARTIN: Moving to another subject, there have been a lot of questions about how these attacks could have happened without warning and about this as an intelligence failure and about Iran's connection - possible connection to these attacks. Did the president speak about that?

KEITH: Biden did not utter the word Iran, but he did warn, quote, "any country" against taking advantage of Israel right now, saying, I have one word - don't. Sullivan yesterday said that while it's clear that Iran has long provided most of the funding and training for Hamas, the U.S. government does not at the moment have evidence that Iran helped plan or direct these attacks. But he says they're looking for it.

And this all comes as Biden is getting hit with a lot of blame from Republicans, who say that his prisoner swap with Iran led to the attack. That swap unlocked $6 billion in Iranian funds for humanitarian causes only, like medicine and food. Sullivan was asked whether the U.S. would look at refreezing those funds, and he said, quote, "not a dollar of that money has been spent, and I will leave it at that." He, however, did not commit one way or another about what would happen with those funds.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thank you so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Maui schools shut down by the August wildfires are set to welcome their students back next week.

FADEL: The disaster upended everyday life in West Maui, but officials reopened the area to visitors this week in an effort to help the island recover economically. Tourism is the island's No. 1 source of income.

MARTIN: Associated Press reporter Jennifer Sinco Kelleher was in Maui last week, and she's with us now to tell us more. Jennifer, good morning.

JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER: Good morning.

MARTIN: So first, could you just tell us what West Maui, and especially Lahaina, look like now, two months after the wildfires?

KELLEHER: Well, the fire destroyed about 2,000 buildings, most of them homes, devastated most of Lahaina Town in West Maui. The so-called burn zone, it's very difficult to look at. It can be jarring to see because the rest of Maui seems completely normal. Officials are slowly opening parts of the burn zone to allow residents to come in and survey what's left. Even though people know that they lost their homes, some of them hadn't been back to their property since the fire. And as you can imagine, seeing the rubble of their lives is difficult.

MARTIN: And also, rebuilding after something like this, a terrible tragedy like this, is difficult, and it's time-consuming. I'm just wondering what the island's residents are saying about Maui reopening.

KELLEHER: Most of the people who lost homes, you know, they're staying in hotels right now. So some people that I've talked to, they say they want to stay in the hotels for now. They want to stay in Lahaina in their community. They don't want to have to move again. Others who may have pets or other needs have other housing preferences. There's a lot of feelings of uncertainty and being unsettled. You know, a lot of people who work in the tourism industry and have lost homes, they say that they're not ready to see tourists on vacation while they're still mourning and processing having lost everything.

MARTIN: What West Maui - particularly Lahaina, which is an historic, you know, town - will look like, you know, after or when rebuilding actually starts - what can you tell us about that? Like, what are some of the concerns there?

KELLEHER: Well, soon after the fire, there was concern that whatever is rebuilt from the devastation won't look like the multicultural working-class neighborhood that was there. They're concerned that the fire will be an opportunity for wealthy outsiders to scoop up land in Lahaina and further price out native Hawaiians and other longtime Hawaii residents. So many Hawaiians and other longtime residents have already left Hawaii because it's just so expensive to live here. And so I've heard lots of mixed feelings about tourists returning and also what's going to be built from all of this tragedy and devastation.

You know, I think one thing that's clear to people in Lahaina is that they want to preserve as much of its cultural heritage as possible. Lahaina is often thought of as a tourist town, but it's an important, historic place to native Hawaiians. So on one of my visits to Maui, I talked to Lahaina resident Archie Kalepa, who is concerned about what the new Lahaina will look like.

ARCHIE KALEPA: You have to - multi families in one home. That's the only way the people that live here can survive. But at what cost? But we're making them live this way so others can come here and enjoy this place. All they see is the beauty. They don't see the beast that is hidden behind this beauty.

MARTIN: That is Associated Press reporter Jennifer Sinco Kelleher. Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing this reporting with us.

KELLEHER: Thank you. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.