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News Brief: Israel-Hamas Violence, N.C. Shooting, Ford's New F-150

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How do Israel and Hamas end a war that has now killed hundreds of people?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Their previous wars have sometimes ended in days and sometimes gone many weeks. Nine days into this conflict, we asked a Hamas spokesman about a cease-fire. Basem Naim spoke today with NPR.

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BASEM NAIM: We are in contact 24 - 24 hours with the brokers, mediators. And we have said it from the beginning. We are ready to stop immediately if the Israelis stop their aggression (ph).

INSKEEP: But the Hamas spokesman added demands such as Israel stopping evictions in East Jerusalem. The U.S. has been nudging its ally, Israel, toward a cease-fire, though Israel has said it will continue fighting until it is done degrading Hamas' military infrastructure in Gaza. Within Israel itself, Palestinian citizens of Israel went on strike Tuesday. That's a collective protest against Israel's military strikes that have caused widespread death and destruction in Gaza.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Tel Aviv, where a senior Israeli military official has been briefing reporters. Daniel, thanks for being here. What did you learn from that briefing?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Yeah, this was a very senior military official. He spoke on condition of not giving his name to discuss sensitive military issues. And he said that Israel right now is assessing its achievements in this offensive, whether that's killing senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants, destroying underground tunnels, rocket launching capabilities. And Israel is assessing whether that is, quote, "enough to bring a message to Hamas," that message being that it will not pay for Hamas to launch rockets so deep into Israel. Now, the official did not outline specific cease-fire conditions. He did, though, mention two main issues that Israel wants the international community to be involved with - first, getting Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers that Hamas has been holding since the last war in 2014 and, the second, addressing Hamas' military buildup in Gaza.

MARTIN: Did the military officials address the enormous civilian casualties in Gaza? I mean, it's just disproportionate compared to the casualties in Israel.

ESTRIN: Right. This official did acknowledge that. He said Israel does its best to avoid civilian casualties. He said even Israel will warn a building three or four hours ahead of a strike to evacuate to avoid casualties. He showed us aerial photos of a rocket launcher next to a residential building. And he said if we would have gotten to that rocket launcher seconds before it shot a rocket, we would have bombed it. He was not apologetic if it meant killing civilians - even if it meant killing civilians on the Gaza side. And furthermore, he said he understands that the media around the world are showing photos and leading with photos of the death and destruction in Gaza. He said if pictures of damage to Israeli civilians were leading this coverage, it would mean that Israel was the weaker side, and he's glad that's not the case.

MARTIN: Can you give us an update on the conflict as it stands now, the airstrikes, the rocket attacks still happening?

ESTRIN: Yes. Israeli airstrikes continued, especially in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. And for about 25 minutes, Israel says dozens of warplanes bombed another section of Hamas' underground tunnel network, according to Israel. At least six Palestinians were killed overnight, a home destroyed. And rocket fire continues into Israel, although somewhat diminished. And this military official today said that was in part because Israel has destroyed rocket launching capabilities.

MARTIN: Is there a pattern to how these usually come to an end? I mean, we just heard from the Hamas spokesman saying, you know, we've got this list of demands for a cease-fire and Israel has its own list. I mean, how does this stop?

ESTRIN: Right. There is a pattern. Egypt is always a key mediator between the sides. Hamas always wants to see pledges to invest in Gaza to leave some of the humanitarian crisis it faces. We've already seen Egypt pledge $500 million for reconstruction.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Tel Aviv, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: No charges will be brought against the three sheriff's deputies who shot Andrew Brown Jr. to death in North Carolina last month.

INSKEEP: District Attorney Andrew Womble said the deputies were justified when they fired at Brown because they saw his behavior behind the wheel of the car as a threat. Brown's aunt, Lillie Brown Clark, spoke with local station WVEC after hearing the prosecutor's decision.

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LILLIE BROWN CLARK: I could not exhale. I was in disbelief.

MARTIN: We've got Will Michaels on the line from North Carolina Public Radio. Will, thanks for being here. The district attorney yesterday said the shooting, the killing of Andrew Brown was justifiable. How?

WILL MICHAELS, BYLINE: District Attorney Andrew Womble's explanation hinges on his assertion that Andrew Brown Jr. was using his car as a deadly weapon after the deputies surrounded Brown's car.

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ANDREW WOMBLE: If he was going to attempt to flee, he had no choice but to drive directly at the officers. When he did that and he made that decision on his own, he placed their lives in danger.

MICHAELS: And Womble went so far as to say that he thought the car did not actually have to be moving to qualify as a deadly weapon. He said it was one as soon as Brown did not comply with deputies' commands.

MARTIN: Some body cam footage was shown during the press conference yesterday. What did it show?

MICHAELS: Right. Womble showed about 45 seconds of body camera footage when it was announced that there would be no charges against these deputies. The shooting happened nearly a month ago. And since then, the body camera footage has been largely sealed. The family has seen some of it, authorities have seen some of it, but it has not been released publicly. And that's because of a state law here in North Carolina that says those videos are not public record, and they need a judge's order to be released publicly. The family and the district attorney since then have been going back and forth arguing about their own interpretations of this video. And so it's kind of remarkable because we thought the release of any footage would give some clarity, but it hasn't. The family continues to say that it was not a justifiable shooting and that the video shows that Brown was trying to turn away from the deputies. And the family, through their attorneys, actually point out that four of the seven deputies who were on the scene did not fire their weapons. And they suggest that those deputies did not feel that their lives were in danger.

MARTIN: What's been the reaction to this in Elizabeth City?

MICHAELS: Well, for about a month, there have been nightly protests. And protesters I spoke with immediately after this press conference were sad and angry. And I think there's some frustration sinking in now that some but not all of this body camera footage has been released. And there's a continuing sort of sentiment of distrust toward authorities here because of it. I actually spoke with Daniel Bowser, and he's a native of Elizabeth City. He was standing outside the Pasquotank County Public Safety Office after the DA made his announcement.

DANIEL BOWSER: It was not justifiable. That's why they're not showing - why not show the whole video? Why do you keep showing clips and bits and pieces? For what? That's not giving the community - like, you want the community behind you? Go on and release the tape, the whole tape. Just go on and release it. Like, that'll let the city breathe again.

MICHAELS: And he and every other protester I spoke with disputed the DA's description of the body camera footage and said extended video should be released. And the DA says he will not ask a judge to do that.

MARTIN: All right. Will Michaels of member station WUNC reporting on the announcement made yesterday out of North Carolina that the three sheriff's deputies will not be charged in the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. Will, we appreciate it. Thank you.

MICHAELS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. President Biden is trying to make the case for electric vehicles.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Here's the president yesterday at Ford's famous Rouge Complex outside Detroit.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The future of the auto industry is electric. There's no turning back.

INSKEEP: There's a lot at stake here. The president has made electric vehicles a key part of his climate platform. And companies like Ford have staked their corporate strategies on electric vehicles, too. So when Ford unveils the electric F-150 Lightning tonight, it'll be about much more than just one pickup.

MARTIN: And we're going to note that Ford is a financial supporter of NPR, but we cover it like any other news story, any other company. NPR's Camila Domonoske is here. Hi, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: So yesterday, President Biden - I saw these pictures, video - he's driving one of these new electric trucks around a track in Detroit.

DOMONOSKE: Loving it.

MARTIN: I mean, Ford couldn't really get better press coverage. Why does this matter so much?

DOMONOSKE: Well, the F-150 is the most popular vehicle in America, and it has been for more than 40 years. So the fact that this particular vehicle is getting a battery-powered version, it's a preview of what the auto industry is hoping will happen more broadly, which is that battery-powered - all electric vehicles will go from being a niche product to being completely normal.

MARTIN: So they can hope all they want, but is this really going to happen?

DOMONOSKE: Well, they're betting huge amounts of money that it will. You have governments putting pressure and creating policy around this because moving away from gas and diesel cars is a huge part of any plan to tackle climate change. You have investors who really want this to happen because they are delighted with what Tesla has done in this area. At the same time, right now, electric vehicles are less than 3% of new car sales in the United States. So ramping that up is going to take huge investment in chargers, charging infrastructure and factories. This is why the president wants to spend $174 billion to promote this change. But at the same time, people have to want to buy the things and not just early adopters or environmental activists but everyone. And so that brings us to the Lightning. The hope here is that there are people who wouldn't buy a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf but would buy an electric F-150. Ford is really staking on that.

MARTIN: The Lightning, that's the name of this thing - right? - the Lightning.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. It's a reference to a high-performance F-150 from the past.

MARTIN: All right. So speaking of the past, I grew up in a place where the engine hum of the Ford F-150 was just sort of the soundtrack, you know, it was always playing, the rev of the engine when it accelerated, the feel of it rumbling. It was sort of the point. So how are they going to get those same drivers to buy an electric version that doesn't do those things?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, that's a big question. So we know that the folks who buy pickup trucks are less likely to be motivated by environmental concerns, but they are motivated by performance.

MARTIN: OK.

DOMONOSKE: I spoke to the Darren Palmer. He's the head of battery electric vehicles at Ford, and he hit me with this metaphor. He asked, do you remember switching from your old cordless drill to a new lithium ion one?

DARREN PALMER: The functionality difference is better. Everybody wanted the best tool. It's the same thing.

DOMONOSKE: So whether or not you had that drill experience, his point is that the electric truck is just better in terms of its features, and that's what will persuade hesitant drivers.

MARTIN: All right. I can't wait to see you behind the wheel of the Lightning. I feel like it should happen. NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thank you, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.