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Morning news brief


Israel is approaching a choice. It's negotiating toward a cease-fire in its war with Hamas in Gaza. It is also preparing to extend its ground invasion into the very last city in Gaza.


President Biden is hoping for option one - the cease-fire.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The United States is working on a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas which would bring an immediate and sustained period of calm to Gaza for at least six weeks.

FADEL: Israel's prime minister, though, is promising to invade Rafah, the border city that's a last refuge for many, many Palestinians. And it's raising concern among Israel's neighbors that Palestinians will be forced out of Gaza, which has prompted warnings of dramatic consequences.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre joins us from Tel Aviv. Hey there, Greg.


INSKEEP: OK, so there are these cease-fire talks in Cairo. What are you watching for?

MYRE: Well, these discussions are expected to focus on a cease-fire of up to six weeks or so as well as another exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. Now, Hamas wants this to be stage one of a longer cease-fire - one that would lead to an end of the war and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected these Hamas demands, but Israel is willing to negotiate because it badly wants to free the more than 130 hostages still held by Hamas. And just a note of caution - a deal at this stage would probably be an interim cease-fire, not an end to the war.

INSKEEP: Nonetheless, more of a cease-fire than exists now - so who's at the table?

MYRE: Yeah, the key point here is Hamas is not expected to be at the table today in Cairo. Hamas does talk to Egypt. It had a delegation there recently, but it doesn't look like it's going to be there today. And it points to how complicated these cease-fire negotiations are - because Israel and Hamas don't talk to each other. So today in Cairo, Israel, the U.S., the Egyptians and Qatar will try to come up with a plan, and then it would have to be sent to Hamas for its review. And the other interesting note here is that the talks are being carried out by intelligence chiefs. CIA director Bill Burns is expected to be present, along with the head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, and the head of Egyptian intelligence.

INSKEEP: Wow, that's really interesting. You mentioned all the countries involved. Let me bring in one more - Jordan, whose king, Abdullah, was in Washington speaking with President Biden.

MYRE: Yeah. He made a very clear call for Israel not to launch a ground offensive in Rafah. As we've mentioned here, Rafah is the town at the southern end of Gaza. It's become this massive, sprawling tent city with displaced Palestinians. Here's King Abdullah.


KING ABDULLAH II BIN AL-HUSSEIN: We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe. The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started.

MYRE: So he's summarizing a position of many Arab and Western leaders. And, in fact, Egypt has even threatened to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if it goes into Rafah.

INSKEEP: OK, Greg, you're talking there about the Camp David Accords - the very first peace agreement that Israel ever signed with an Arab nation - which has lasted since the 1970s. And now the Egyptians talk of at least suspending it. What makes them so concerned?

MYRE: Well, fear of refugees, I think, is the main thing. You've got a million Palestinians pressed up against that southern border of Gaza, on Egypt's border. They don't want them coming across. They don't want Gaza's turmoil spilling over into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. And secondly, they also don't like Hamas. They see that as an extremist group, and they really don't want that coming into their territory as well. They have a concern with Islamists in their country. So that's a big part of it is as well.

Now, this is why these talks right now in the Egyptian capital are so critical. A cease-fire could prevent heavy fighting in Rafah, perhaps ease the humanitarian crisis. The flip side is, if these talks fail, it probably increases the likelihood of an Israeli operation in Rafah. Netanyahu says that Rafah is the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza and that Israel is determined to defeat the group militarily. Now, we've been in touch with Palestinians in Rafah. They're very worried about their safety. Some have inquired about heading back to central or northern Gaza, but those areas have largely been destroyed. Aid groups aren't really operating there. So many are saying they'll just stay in Rafah and take their chances.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks for the analysis.

MYRE: Sure thing, Steve.


INSKEEP: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has canceled a planned trip to Europe, where he expected to meet with other leaders about the war in Ukraine.

FADEL: Austin will attend by video link instead because he remains in the hospital. The treatment for a bladder issue follows Austin's much-debated trip to the hospital for prostate cancer treatment that he disclosed to almost nobody.

INSKEEP: So what's he trying to accomplish with the trip that he's not going to take? Nancy Youssef covers national security for The Wall Street Journal and joins us. Good morning.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How's the secretary doing?

YOUSSEF: We are told he's doing better, that he had surgery yesterday for what the Pentagon described as an emergent bladder issue and that he is expected to make a recovery and resume normal duties this week. So that's the official statement. Having said that, the secretary is unable to travel to Europe this week, as you mentioned, for the Ukraine Contact Group. So while they're saying he is ready to resume normal duties, it's clear that there's, at least for now, some limitations on that.

INSKEEP: I'm now curious - having gotten in trouble for not disclosing enough about his health, is he now telling you every little detail about the bladder?

YOUSSEF: Well, we don't know what the exact issue is. We don't know what the surgery was that required his hospitalization on Sunday. And we don't know the details of his prognosis, but it is better than what it was earlier this year, at the start of the year, when the secretary was hospitalized and did not disclose it to anyone, including the president of the United States, for four days. And so it's better in terms of transparency than what we got earlier this year, but I don't know if it's as fully transparent such that the American public has a detailed assessment of his prognosis, which is important because, obviously, he's in charge of the largest government agency, an $850 billion defense...


YOUSSEF: ...Budget, and he's sixth in line in succession.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about the substance of this meeting that he will attend virtually, we are told. What's on the table?

YOUSSEF: So this comes at a time - well, let me back up and say that the Ukraine Contact Group is a meeting of 50 nations. And they hold this meeting monthly to determine how to get military aid to Ukraine amongst its allies. This comes at a time when the war has stalled for quite a bit. We've heard from Ukraine that they are really struggling in terms of weapons and munitions, to the point that they're really being very careful in terms of even using basic weapons and holding onto them because they're on such short supply.

And so the intent was to come up with some sort of longer-term planning and funding for Ukraine to get it its weapons it needs. And it comes while Congress is still debating whether to fund $61 billion worth of that equipment and military aid to Ukraine. We saw the Senate pass something on Sunday that provided $93 billion in aid to Taiwan, Israel and Ukraine, but it's still not clear through the House. And so I think the hope was that this meeting would get other allies to step up and provide some of that aid as the U.S. holds this ongoing debate about aid to Ukraine.

INSKEEP: Is it a little awkward that the United States wants to lead the coalition that is supporting Ukraine, and the United States is needing to ask other people to do the work that the United States doesn't seem to be in a position to do right now?

YOUSSEF: It is because, throughout this war, the United States has been the leader in terms of the amount of aid that is provided and building up the alliance. When this started, it was not a 50-nation alliance. It became so because of the U.S. support. And, actually, this group itself was founded by the defense secretary, and he really sort of personified the U.S. role in sort of shoring up aid to Ukraine and support across the alliance.

INSKEEP: Nancy Youssef of The Wall Street Journal - it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

YOUSSEF: Thank you.


FADEL: He returned last night, after nearly nine years away, with a familiar greeting.


JON STEWART: Welcome to "The Daily Show." My name is Jon Stewart. Now, where was I?

INSKEEP: It didn't take long for Jon Stewart to resume the kind of humor he was known for during his long run hosting "The Daily Show."


STEWART: Why am I back? - you may be asking yourselves. It's a very reasonable question. I have committed a lot of crimes.


STEWART: From what I understand, talk show hosts are granted immunity, so it doesn't matter.


FADEL: And here to talk about Stewart's return is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hi, Eric.


FADEL: OK, so what happened? I mean, I know there was this long search for a new host of "The Daily Show," and now Jon Stewart is back. Is he back for good?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, just to remind everybody, Comedy Central had been trying to find a new permanent host for "The Daily Show" for over a year...

FADEL: Right.

DEGGANS: ...Since Trevor Noah, who succeeded Stewart in 2015, left the program. Now, earlier this year, they announced that Jon Stewart would return as a host just on Monday nights while also serving as one of the show's executive producers for all the nights. And the show's correspondents are going to pick up the slack. They're going to host the show on the remaining nights of the week, starting with Jordan Klepper, who takes over the program tonight through Thursday.

FADEL: So Jon Stewart back - did he seem rusty? Is he just - is he right back in the driver's seat there?

DEGGANS: Now, I got to say, I'm a longtime fan. I was impressed by how easily he slipped back into that host chair. I mean, it felt like no time had passed at all. And he spent the show's first 20 minutes really digging into the controversy over the advanced ages of both President Joe Biden and his likely reelection opponent, former President Donald Trump. Here's a sample. Let's listen.


STEWART: They are the oldest people ever to run for president, breaking by only four years the record that they set.


DEGGANS: So, you know, critics might accuse Jon Stewart of falsely giving way to both sides of this issue, but Stewart insisted that Biden and his supporters in particular should just do a better job of showing the public that they shouldn't be concerned rather than criticizing voters for having the concern.

FADEL: So how'd the rest of the show go? I mean, he's the executive producer now - any indication of how that will change the show?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, there was a funny segment with all the correspondents pretending to report from a diner, including a joke at Stewart's expense about how voters needed more than the same show from an older, yet familiar face.

FADEL: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: Jon Stewart has said one reason he came back was to platform important ideas and discussions, and he jumped right into a contentious issue.

FADEL: So as a "Daily Show" connoisseur, Eric, the big question is, is Stewart's return the best thing for the future of the show?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, it was just his first episode back, but I do think that last night was a fine return to form, and it's going to bring a lot of new attention to the show. Now, the new show probably won't get the million-plus viewers that Jon Stewart had at his height on the show, but he's popular with the show's old-school fans who may still watch traditional TV, so the ratings will probably go up a bit.

But times have changed a lot since he last hosted the show. Late night's in decline. Younger viewers are on TikTok. And I think, eventually, "The Daily Show" has just got to decide if it's going to try to evolve a new voice for a new style of late-night TV or if it's going to keep doing some version of what it's always done.

FADEL: That's Eric Deggans, NPR TV critic. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Here's one other story we're following. Former President Trump is pushing for another delay in his trial for attempting to overturn his 2020 election defeat. The ex-president has been claiming he has absolute immunity from prosecution for his acts while president. Lower courts have rejected this claim, so Trump is trying once more with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices can let the lower court ruling stand - meaning his trial would proceed - or decide to hear the case in full, which would push any trial closer to November's presidential election. You can find more at npr.org. 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.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.