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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For days the international community urged restraint after Iran attacked Israel earlier this week. They warned a military response could lead to an all-out regional war.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

But overnight, it appeared Israel had responded. Iran said it shot down, quote, an "unknown object." And at this hour, what exactly happened is unclear.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Tel Aviv to parse all this out. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So I know that we're learning more every hour and there's a lot we still need to understand and learn. But at this point, what can we say about what happened overnight?

SCHMITZ: Well, we know that a senior U.S. military official told NPR that Israel launched missiles at Iran overnight, but there's no evidence we've seen yet that confirms this. NPR has reached out to Israel's military and prime minister's office for comment, but as of yet, they haven't responded. Sources in Iran, however, paint a slightly different picture. Iran state news agency IRNA reported this morning that according to an Iranian brigadier general, Mihan Dost, loud booms were heard east of the city of Isfahan, where the sounds of Iranian air defenses intercepting what he called an unknown object, and that there were also no signs of casualties or damage to report, he reported.

We've seen reports from other state media outlets of Iranian air defense shooting down drones flying over Isfahan, but we've not been able to confirm these reports. But for context here, Leila, this is apparently the latest escalation in what has been a tense tit for tat that began when an airstrike, which Iran blamed on Israel, killed two Iranian commanders in the country's embassy compound in Syria April 1...

FADEL: Right.

SCHMITZ: ...Which was then followed by an unprecedented missile and drone attack that around launched on Israel last weekend, which was largely intercepted and caused little damage.

FADEL: OK, you mentioned Israel's government has yet to weigh in on this incident, but what's been the reaction in the region this morning?

SCHMITZ: Well, here in Israel it's been fairly muted. Commercial flights continue in and out of Israel's largest airport and the country's homefront command system that's responsible for issuing threat alerts to civilians during these tense times didn't change its threat level. Over in Iran, flights were temporarily grounded this morning, but just a couple hours later, we're resumed. So it seems that life has returned to a semblance of normalcy there, too.

But there has been reaction from political insiders. NPR spoke to Meir Litvak, director of the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies. And he said what's interesting about Isfahan as a target is that it's home to part of Iran's nuclear program. And by the way, the International Atomic Energy Agency says there's no damage to Iran's nuclear sites today. But Litvak says the message to Iran earlier this morning was clear. We have the intelligence, the capability and the will to attack Iran's most sensitive strategic assets if necessary.

MEIR LITVAK: At the same time, the scale of the attack and the location will send a signal that we do not want escalation, that what we want is to end the current round of the tit for tat and we don't want the escalation.

SCHMITZ: And while that may have been the message from Israel, there's at least one member of Israel's cabinet that feels differently. Israel National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir posted in a social media reaction to the attack using the Hebrew slang term for weak. And there's been ongoing debate inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet over the proper response to Iran's attack, and far-right politicians like Ben-Gvir are pressing for a bigger one.

FADEL: So is it possible, Rob, that this is the end of all this?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, anything's possible now. You know, we simply don't know at this stage. What's clear is that the United States has warned Israel to do as little as possible to further escalate tensions in the region. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear all along that he will do what he thinks is the right thing to defend Israel. Whether this is the extent of it remains to be seen.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The latest flashpoint on U.S. college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war erupted yesterday at Columbia University.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) It is right to rebel.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) It is right to rebel.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Columbia, go to hell.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Columbia, go to hell.

MARTÍNEZ: New York City police officers were allowed on campus, where they arrested more than a hundred people for setting up a protest encampment against the Gaza war on the campus lawn. The protesters are demanding that the university divest from companies that support Israel.

FADEL: Gwynne Hogan is a reporter with the local news website The City. She covered yesterday's demonstration and she joins us now. Hi, Gwynne.

GWYNNE HOGAN: Hey there.

FADEL: So these scenes at a college campus, I mean, they're quite unusual. City police being allowed on a university campus to break up a protest - what happened?

HOGAN: That's right. So students set up camp early Wednesday morning. By the second day of their demonstration, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik called in the NYPD, saying the encampment presented a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the university. Anyone participating would be suspended from school. That's when dozens of police officers entered the gated campus in riot gear, arresting students one by one for trespassing. All told, 108 people were arrested by late last night.

FADEL: One hundred and eight people arrested. What did the university say about why it took this step to bring in police?

HOGAN: President Shafik said students got multiple warnings to disperse and were in violation of campus protocol that requires advance notice of demonstrations, among other rules, though there is no indication at this point that there was any type of physical altercation leading up to the crackdown. New York City Mayor Eric Adams was asked why police got involved. And he acknowledged while this was a peaceful demonstration, it was happening on private property, hence the trespassing arrests.

FADEL: So what did you hear from students after this encampment was broken up?

HOGAN: As the first crop of protesters were arrested, hundreds more were looking on. They were chanting and marching around the perimeter of the green. I spoke to some who said they were disgusted by the university's choice to call in police for a non-violent demonstration, and pretty soon they'd taken over a second section of the lawn, vowing to keep the occupation going. Here's Layla Saliba, a social works grad student speaking to me - or speaking at a press conference after the arrests.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAYLA SALIBA: Today was a dark day for freedom of speech on Columbia's campus, because Columbia is showing that if you say something or do something that the university does not agree with that they are willing to use violence towards you.

FADEL: Now, this is one protest on one campus. But, Gwynne, we're seeing protests upend college campuses across the country since the war in Gaza began over six months ago, right?

HOGAN: That's right. This ongoing war in Gaza has been roiling college campuses for months. Muslim students and Jewish students have said that they feel targeted at Columbia when I was talking to them yesterday, and universities all across the country are struggling to strike a balance where students are safe and where free speech is protected. In fact, the arrest came just one day after Columbia's president was grilled in Congress over antisemitism on campus.

FADEL: Very quickly, how do they strike that balance? I mean, I've seen a lot of concern over what happened at Columbia yesterday from free speech advocates worried that this is suppression.

HOGAN: That's right. You know, organizers I talked to know that what Columbia does and how they behave will impact so many other institutions. And they're looking at historic protests from the Vietnam War, where there was a days-long occupation in 1968. And they're vowing to keep demonstrating despite the threats of arrest and suspension.

FADEL: Gwynne Hogan is a reporter for the local New York City news website The City. Gwynne, thank you.

HOGAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Twelve New York City residents now hold Donald Trump's fate in their hands.

FADEL: As his New York criminal trial nears the end of its first week, the judge and lawyers have selected his jury. Today, they'll continue looking for alternate jurors just in case. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts related to payments made to adult film actor Stormy Daniels. He spoke briefly with reporters outside the courtroom yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Justice is on trial. You know, the whole world is watching this New York scam.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo has been at the courthouse this week, joins us now from New York. Ximena, so what can you tell us about the jurors who have been selected?

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Well, there are 12 jurors and one alternate already chosen, but they do need five more alternates. More than 190 people have been questioned so far, and 100 more are coming in today, this morning. One thing that has been really interesting is seeing the diverse swath of New Yorkers share details about themselves, with some lighthearted moments ahead of a very serious trial. One juror, when asked if she knew any lawyers, said that she dated one and that the relationship ended, quote, "fine." Another said that he uses his flip phone and insisted that he doesn't watch podcasts. One lamented their lack of hobbies as well when asked about them.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so fun at a felony trial, I guess. Now, the goal, though, is to seat a fair and impartial jury. So how are they doing that?

BUSTILLO: Well, the first thing that the judge has been asking is for them to raise their hands if they believe that they cannot be fair and impartial. Nearly 100 people this week raised their hands and were immediately excused. The next question is if they cannot serve for any other reason, and without question, a few others are then dismissed. Then begins the process of reading 42 questions from an agreed upon questionnaire.

MARTÍNEZ: Ooh, what kind of questions?

BUSTILLO: Well, aside from their hobbies, they're being asked about their education, their occupations, their potential connections to Trump, such as attending a campaign event. And lawyers are asking additional questions, too. The Trump legal team has definitely done their research on these jurors. On Tuesday, there were some prospective jurors who were dismissed because of their social media history. One was dismissed after a discussion of her husband's posts about Trump dating back to 2016 that were critical of the former president. And yesterday, a different juror was brought back in to read out loud her social media posts that called Trump a narcissist, also from 2016, and she was ultimately not selected.

MARTÍNEZ: And Trump's just right there, right?

BUSTILLO: Yes, he is right in front of them when the jurors walk in, they do see him and they answer these questions in front of him.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, at Trump's recent civil trials, he's sometimes have gotten rebuked by the judges. What's he been like here so far?

BUSTILLO: Here he's actually been pretty quiet. Throughout this process, Trump will turn around to look at the jurors as they answer questions. He's often leaning over to talk to his lawyers, too. But you have to remember he's not really happy to be here. He has been arguing that this trial is interfering with his ability to campaign. He is running for the 2024 presidential race, and he's required to be here in court when it is in session four days a week. But he did have a campaign event after court in Harlem on Tuesday at a bodega, and he has a rally in North Carolina on Saturday night.

Apart from the scheduling conflicts, it's also just an uncomfortable environment. This is a pretty dingy Manhattan courthouse. It was cold, which Trump himself complained about, as did many jurors. And the judge noted it. It's confined, and we do have many weeks to go. It's expected that this trial will last at least six weeks.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, bring a sweater. That's NPR's Ximena Bustillo. Thanks a lot.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEYOND THE SEASONS AND SEBASTIAN AGUIRRE'S "CORDILLERAS") 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.

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