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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Israel, there was joy over the weekend with news of the rescue of four hostages who had been held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

But inside Gaza, there was anguish as the Israeli rescue raid killed more than 270 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities. And just ahead of a visit today to Israel by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, there was an Israeli government shakeup as a key figure in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet resigned late Sunday.

MARTIN: NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi is with us now from Tel Aviv with more. Good morning, Hadeel.

HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So what did it take to rescue these hostages?

AL-SHALCHI: Well, first of all, it was quite a deadly operation. Our producer Anas Baba talked to Palestinians who were sheltering in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, where the operation took place, and they described a scene of bloody chaos and confusion. They said they came under heavy fire as the Israeli military whisked the hostages away in a helicopter. And they said they saw dozens of Palestinian bodies lying on the streets afterwards. The Israeli military said it was a raid that took weeks to prepare, and it was on two residential buildings where hostages were locked inside rooms. There was a gun battle with the guards and one Israeli officer was killed. And then an Israeli army spokesperson said there was a high number of Palestinian casualties in the raid. But he blamed Hamas for holding captives in homes in the heart of a civilian neighborhood.

Now, here in Tel Aviv, cheers erupted when the news broke. I went to a rally that the families of the hostages and their supporters hold every Saturday, and I actually expected the mood to be a little bit more jubilant than it was. I talked to a number of people, and they basically said the same thing. We are happy that we have these four hostages back alive but it's not enough. There are still 120 left in Gaza and the government needs to do more and to accept a cease-fire with Hamas to bring them back.

MARTIN: And the day after this rescue, a key government official, Benny Gantz, resigned. What does his quitting the government mean?

AL-SHALCHI: So Gantz is a popular centrist politician and he called on Netanyahu to hold elections by the fall. And polls actually show that he would beat Netanyahu in an election. Now, his departure won't actually topple the government, but it will force Netanyahu to rely more on his far-right coalition partners, who don't want an end to the war and they're threatening to topple the government if it does. So Gantz has accused Netanyahu of putting his own political survival ahead of getting the rest of the hostages out of Gaza. And the prime minister urged Gantz not to resign in a post on social media saying this was the time to join forces, as Israel is in an existential war. Gantz also hinted for the defense minister, who's also a centrist like him, to resign. But so far, the defense minister is staying put.

MARTIN: And Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making his eighth diplomatic trip to the Middle East in as many months of the war in Gaza. Starting today, what might we expect from this?

AL-SHALCHI: So he is starting in Cairo and then arriving here in Israel later today and is expected to meet with Netanyahu and other officials. Blinken is going to focus on pushing for President Biden's three-part cease-fire proposal, which was announced a couple of weeks ago. The White House called it an Israeli plan, but neither Hamas nor Israel have formally agreed to it. And yesterday, the U.S. requested the U.N. Security Council to vote on a draft resolution that supports Biden's cease-fire plan.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Hadeel Al-Shalchi in Tel Aviv. Hadeel, thank you.

AL-SHALCHI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: As expected, far-right parties made gains in European parliamentary elections that wrapped up last night.

SCHMITZ: Though the mainstream governing coalitions in the European Parliament will hold, the vote results provoked a political earthquake in France. President Emmanuel Macron's party was so severely trounced by the right wing that he dissolved the French Parliament and has called for new elections.

MARTIN: We're gonna go now to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Eleanor good morning.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So was this a surprise and what does it mean?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, my gosh, it was a huge shocker - a double shock. First the big score of the far right, which trounced Macron's party with 32% of the vote compared to his 15%. Then followed the political earthquake when Macron went on TV shortly after the results came in. Let's listen to him speaking last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: He said, I know this decision is grave and heavy, but I cannot ignore what has just happened. I decided to dissolve the National Assembly of the Parliament and give you the choice of your parliamentary future. You know, he said the far right means the impoverishment and isolation of France. And he called what he's doing an act of confidence in democracy and the French people to make the right choice for their future.

Clearly, Michel, he's hoping enough French people were scared by the vote yesterday to come out and massively support his party. But it's a huge risk. The French papers this morning are calling it Russian roulette. You know, there's a chance that the far right could get a majority in the French Parliament, which would leave Macron a lame duck president with a prime minister from a hostile party.

MARTIN: As you just told us, this was a huge shock. So what do you think is Macron's calculation? What does he hope to obtain here?

BEARDSLEY: Well, pundits are still debating that. You know, he could've formed a broader coalition government with other smaller, mainstream parties, which is what everyone thought he might do if the far right did well. But he took the all-or-nothing approach by sending the French back to the polls to start over. This is going to be a two-round vote that will take place June 30 and July 7, so ahead of the Olympics.

Macron does not want the shadow of this empowered far right hanging over the last three years of his presidency. The far right can prosper in opposition, and this could serve as a springboard for its leader, Maren Le Pen, to get elected president when Macron has to step down in 2027. You might think that this was a panic reaction, but this morning the French newspapers are saying that his bold move has been planned for months in secret and even had a code word used for it, Operation Fortitude.

MARTIN: What are the right-wing parties saying?

BEARDSLEY: Oh, I mean, they've been calling for Macron to dissolve Parliament for months and daring him to do it almost. And this is their dream at a moment when they've never been so strong. Marine Le Pen spoke to her party last night after Macron's announcement. Let's hear her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARINE LE PEN: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: OK, she called the vote a rejection of Macron and all of his pro-European policies. She said her party is the big alternative force, and they're ready to take power to defend the interests of the French people and put an end to immigration. And for Europe, she said the vote was in favor of a return to the sovereignty of nations and their protections. And she said this vote turnout for the far right puts an end to, quote, "the policies of globalization that have made Europeans suffer so much."

MARTIN: So, Eleanor, before we let you go - overall, I mean, we'd heard that the far right was going to make gains, but the margins were not expected. What did the overall European election results tell us?

BEARDSLEY: Well, overall, they did make gains, especially in Germany, you know, the EU's largest member, where they came in second. But still, the mainstream coalitions in the European Parliament will hold OK. a rightword shift there will be, and that'll make it challenging to pass legislation about climate change and migration. But this upheaval in France, a founding nation of the EU, does not instill confidence, Michel.

MARTIN: That is NPR correspondent Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: We could find out today if Hunter Biden will testify in his gun trial in a Delaware federal court.

SCHMITZ: The president's son is charged with three felonies for allegedly lying about his drug use when he bought a gun in October 2018.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been in the courtroom every day. He will be there again today. But first, he is with us now. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So the trial began a week ago today. Where do things stand at this point?

LUCAS: Well, things have moved pretty quickly. The government presented its case-in-chief, about 10 witnesses for the prosecution before resting on Friday morning. The jury then heard three defense witnesses. The last one was Hunter Biden's daughter, Naomi Biden. That was an emotional bit of difficult testimony for her and her father. She talked about Hunter's downward spiral into addiction after his brother Beau died in 2015. The defense had considered calling President Biden's brother, Hunter's uncle, James Biden as well. But they appeared to have reconsidered on Friday, and so court broke early for the weekend.

MARTIN: So remind us of what the government's case is against Hunter Biden.

LUCAS: Well, of the 10 witnesses that the government presented there are three that stand out in particular, in part for their testimony, in part just because of who they are. This is Hunter's wife - ex-wife, Kathleen Buhle, and ex-girlfriend, Zoe Kestan, and then his brother's widow, Hallie Biden. All three of them were romantically involved with Hunter at some point in time. Kestan and Hallie Biden in particular testified about Hunter's crack addiction, his drug use, about how he would buy drugs. And Kestan even told jurors that she sat next to Hunter when he was mixing and cooking his own crack.

MARTIN: And people who've been following the trial may have heard this, that prosecutors also used Hunter's own memoir as evidence of his addiction.

LUCAS: That's right. They played audio excerpts, lengthy ones, from his memoir in which Hunter talks about his crack addiction over about a four-year period ending in 2019. But prosecutors have also shown jurors Hunter's text messages in which he's talking about smoking crack, talking about buying guns. That includes one in which he says he's sleeping on a car smoking crack. He sent that text two days after he bought the gun. And that timing matters because in the government's view, it's evidence that Hunter was a drug user when he owned the gun. And remember, one of the charges is illegal possession of a firearm by a drug user.

MARTIN: Well, as you just told us, the defense started its case on Friday. Has the defense been able to undermine the government's case at all?

LUCAS: Well, Hunter's attorney, Abbe Lowell, has certainly tried to sow doubt about aspects of the government case. Lowell has admitted that Hunter struggled with addiction, no dispute there. And the jury has heard testimony that Hunter several times went to rehab and then relapsed. And so what Lowell has tried to do is to get the jury to focus almost exclusively on the 11-day period that Hunter owned the gun.

Jurors have seen receipts that Hunter completed a rehab program a little over a month before he bought the gun, so Lowell trying to plant the idea that Hunter was clean for the period that he bought and owned the weapon before he then relapsed again. On cross-examination, he got Buhle and Kestan and Hallie Biden all to say to the jury that they never saw Hunter use drugs during the time that he owned the gun. There's sill, though, that Hunter text that I mentioned in which he says, when he owned the gun, about smoking crack. Lowell has tried to diffuse that with testimony from Hallie Biden that sometimes Hunter would lie about where he was in his text messages and lie about what he was doing.

MARTIN: Any sense of when we're likely to have a verdict?

LUCAS: Well, if Hunter doesn't testify, we could get to closing arguments today or tomorrow, unless something unforeseen happens, and then it's up to the jury. But we could have a verdict by midweek.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: 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.

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.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.