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News Brief: Gaza Strikes, Trump Threatens Tariffs, S.C. Campaign Stops


After days of deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and Israel, it appears that the two sides may have reached a ceasefire.


This latest round of fighting began three days ago. It was the worst on Sunday, with militant groups in Gaza launching at least 600 rockets and mortars at Israel. Israel then responded with airstrikes. Israeli military officials say they were targeting Hamas.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The IDF holds Hamas responsible for every act of violence against Israel and Israeli civilians. We are prepared and ready to continue to retaliate against Hamas, and we are prepared for different contingencies.

GREENE: At least four Israelis and 23 Palestinians were killed in this fighting, and many more were wounded on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Josef Federman. He is the Israel bureau chief for the Associated Press. And we've got him on the line in Jerusalem. Thank you so much for being with us, Josef. Can you just tell us what started this round of violence?

JOSEF FEDERMAN: Yeah. It's the same pattern that we've seen a number of times in recent years. There are these unofficial ceasefire truce deals that have been mediated by Egypt over the years. And usually, it's the same pattern, where one side - the Palestinian side, Hamas - accuses Israel of violating these understandings. And to protest or to send a message, they may allow a rocket to be fired, a couple of rockets. And then Israel responds. And one thing leads to another, and the next thing you know, you have hundreds of rockets and hundreds of airstrikes.

MARTIN: But this is - I mean, this is more intense than it's been in several years, correct?

FEDERMAN: This was the most intense we've seen since a war in 2014. Now, that was incredibly intense back then. That was a 50-day battle with thousands and thousands of rockets and so forth. So it wasn't at that level. But we have seen a number of these outbursts of fighting. And the most disturbing part is where, after the war, we had several years of quiet. Then you have a couple of days of battles, and then you have a few months of quiet. And now it's becoming a few weeks of quiet. So we went through this same drill twice in March - not quite the same level of intensity, but very similar, just a few weeks ago.

MARTIN: So what does it mean? I mean, what's your takeaway from it?

FEDERMAN: My takeaway is that they need to find a better solution. The current system, these understandings between these two bitter enemies, is not working. Each side has its sets of demands. Basically, Israel has imposed this blockade on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. This blockade has had very devastating consequences to the economy. People cannot move in and out of the territory. Unemployment is now over 50 percent. Hamas wants that to be eased.

In return, Israel wants Hamas to keep things quiet. They don't want any more rocket fire. And you've probably noticed over the past year, a little more than a year, every Friday there are these mass protests right along the Israeli border that often turn violent, with crowds trying to push through the border and people getting - on the Palestinian side, people getting killed every week. So it's really an untenable situation, and they have not found the magic formula to coexist.

MARTIN: So do you have any indication as to whether or not this particular ceasefire is going to hold, and for how long?

FEDERMAN: No. It - the - from what we understand, that - first of all, there are never any formal announcements. They don't put out a press release announcing their understandings. But from what we hear from our sources, all they've done is agree to go back to what they understood a month ago. So we will see if Israel carries out what it has promised and whether Hamas keeps its promises.

MARTIN: Josef Federman. He is the Israel bureau chief based in Jerusalem for the Associated Press. We appreciate it. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

FEDERMAN: Thank you.


MARTIN: OK. Just before a new round of trade talks with China is supposed to kick off, a new round of tweets from President Trump threatening new tariffs. The president has delayed his planned tariff increases twice already this year. Negotiations with the Chinese are supposed to resume Wednesday.

GREENE: Right. Those negotiations are supposed to take place Wednesday in Washington, and there are a lot of components to these trade disputes. But from the U.S. perspective, this is all about curbing China's unfair trade practices as it seeks to cement itself as a technological superpower. The president has delayed his planned tariff increases twice this year. So how effective is this new threat going to be?

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley is with us this morning. Hi, Scott. Scott?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: There you are. So how's the U.S. business community reacting to this - and China, for that matter - these new threats about tariffs?

HORSLEY: I think these tweets were greeted with surprise and a little bit of nervousness. They came out of the blue. Just a few minutes earlier, the president had been tweeting about the Kentucky Derby. And after the last round of trade talks, which took place in Beijing last week, the White House has said they were productive and that they were moving towards substantial progress.

Now, keep in mind all of this may be just posturing by the president. Another round of talks, as you mentioned, is set to begin on Wednesday. And so Trump maybe just trying to ramp up the pressure as negotiators near what they hope will be the finish line. And that notion that this is posturing appears to be how the Chinese are taking this. While there was some threat that China wouldn't participate in this new round of talks, China's Foreign Ministry brushed off the president's threat, saying they've heard this kind of economic saber-rattling from Trump before. They are planning to proceed with the next round of negotiations.

MARTIN: I mean, they have heard it before. As we noted, the president has threatened these tariffs twice before. Do they start to lose their effect, their intended potency, when they're threatened so often?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, maybe a little bit. This is kind of a standard game plan for President Trump. He threatens to blow something up, and then he claims credit when it doesn't happen. But Trump makes good on these kinds of threats just often enough that they cannot be discounted entirely.

You know, up until this weekend, U.S. financial markets were anticipating that there would be some kind of deal with China. That's one reason the stock market has rallied since December, when the trade tensions were a whole lot higher. So if this deal were to fall apart, and higher tariffs were actually to take effect, you know, that would be a whole 'nother (ph) story.

MARTIN: Can you take a big step back, Scott, and just remind us this is not - this is so not happening in isolation, (laughter) right? The global implications of a trade dispute between the United States and China are huge.

HORSLEY: Right. We're talking about the world's two biggest economies, so an all-out trade war would be destructive on both sides. And the ripple effects would go global. Probably the effects be worse for China than for the U.S., but it would be painful here as well. Although Trump claimed in his tweet that China is bearing the cost of the existing tariffs, most analysts say that's not true. Chinese companies may be absorbing some of the cost of these tariffs, but the bulk is being passed on to U.S. businesses and consumers.

And if the tariffs were in fact to go from 10 to 25 percent, as he threatened in his tweets, that price tag would only go up. We saw a warning about those effects yesterday from the National Retail Federation. They say it would cost jobs. It would cost consumers money. And the fallout would be even bigger if Trump followed through on a threat to expand the tariffs.

MARTIN: OK. NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley for us this morning. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Presidential politics now. Two Democratic presidential candidates whose base of support comes from white voters spent the weekend in South Carolina trying to pitch themselves to black Americans.

GREENE: Right. Former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg have pitched their candidacies around winning back Midwestern states that Democrats lost in 2016. But to get that far, they need to win the Democratic primary first.

MARTIN: And that primary runs right through the state of South Carolina, where NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow spent the weekend. Hey, Scott.


MARTIN: How's South Carolina treating you?

DETROW: Oh, it's pretty nice. Always good to be here.

MARTIN: So Biden has been there a lot. I mean, he's a familiar face in South Carolina, right?

DETROW: He is. He has been here a lot as vice president, as longtime candidate. And that familiarity goes a long way. But this is his first time here as a - running in 2020. You know, he made this appeal to white working-class voters in Iowa and Pennsylvania the first week of his campaign. But South Carolina is important to Democrats because it's the first state where a majority of primary voters are black. So it's interesting to hear his message shift a little bit.

Biden does have far and away the top poll numbers of candidates so far among non-white voters, and a big reason for that appeal seems to be his time in the Obama administration. So it was notable to me that, in Columbia, Biden was repeatedly bringing up Barack Obama over and over again. He was telling the crowd how close the two men are.


JOE BIDEN: I heard you're playing the tape of my buddy. My buddy - I shouldn't be so casual. President of the United States, Barack Obama.

MARTIN: Oh, like he just slipped there. Oh, I shouldn't be so casual. Did I mention we're friends (laughter)?

DETROW: (Laughter) He called him his buddy, his friend about four or five times. It was a lot. He did also talk about voting rights, health care. But just like in other places, he's really framing himself already running against Trump, trying to make it seem like he's the nominee.

MARTIN: Yeah. So what was it like to see Biden and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg back to back? I mean, what was the message coming out of the mayor of South Bend?

DETROW: Yeah. Buttigieg has enjoyed a ton of attention lately. He seems to be on every single magazine cover you find. He's rising in the polls. To me, the things that stuck out was this looked like the rally of a top-tier candidate. There were almost as many people there as were there for Biden. It was well-produced. It was well-organized. But one very striking thing - in a state where, as we mentioned, African-American voters are the majority of the primary vote, there were hardly any black people at this rally. It was an - almost entirely a crowd of white voters. Buttigieg did acknowledge to reporters that this is a problem.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: In order to win and in order to deserve to win, my campaign needs to go above and beyond in reaching out to black voters. And that's going to continue to be a priority for us.

DETROW: He said, it's an outreach issue and also a trust issue. He's acknowledging that he is someone who just hasn't been on the national scene for a long time. Buttigieg did talk a lot about criminal justice reform, about how the federal government needs to work with cities to improve policing and also voting rights. These are all things that many black voters are saying are critical issues for them.

MARTIN: Did they talk about President Trump?

DETROW: A little bit. Both were asked questions of how do you beat President Trump. Buttigieg said engaging with Trump is like a Chinese finger trap, that the harder you go after him, the worse it gets for yourself. Biden interestingly had a mixed message. He said at one point he didn't want to get into the mud. But then someone at a fundraiser said, well, do you have a nickname for him? And he said, yeah, I'd call him a clown. So Biden seems to be figuring out his approach.

MARTIN: All right. NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow for us on the political campaign events happening in South Carolina over the weekend. Scott, we appreciate it. Thanks.

DETROW: Sure thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.