Morning news brief
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
As the Israelis press their military campaign in Gaza, a big part of that effort is destroying the tunnel network built by Hamas.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Israel says it is uncovering many tunnels, including one just outside the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Israeli military spokesman Major Doron Spielman put it this way.
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DORON SPIELMAN: You have two Gazas today. You have the Gaza Strip above ground, and you have the underworld of Gaza filled with fighters, hostages, Gazan civilians, arms, electricity.
MARTÍNEZ: For more, we're joined by NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, you just got back from southern Israel, near Gaza. What'd you find out?
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, I visited a large Israeli military base where several journalists were briefed by military officers. Now, the Israelis say they are uncovering large numbers of these tunnels as expected. But the sheer size of the network and the level of sophistication is really beyond what they expected. Many are uncovered at or near sensitive sites, hospitals, mosques, schools. When they go into the homes - abandoned homes, I should say, of Hamas commanders, there are often tunnel entrances either inside the home or just outside it.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So how are the Israelis dealing with these tunnels once they find them?
MYRE: So they're often booby trapped. And in one instance, four Israeli soldiers were killed as they opened a tunnel entrance. Here's Major Doron Spielman again on the Hamas tunnels.
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SPIELMAN: They've got fake doors. They have fake walls. They've got lighting. They have underground hatches. The entire tunnel network is essentially built to give them a tactical advantage.
MYRE: So because of this, Israel is not sending soldiers into the tunnels, it's using robots to go down and search. And once they've looked inside, the Israelis bring in what is essentially a tanker truck filled with explosive gel. Now, a hose pumps this gel into the tunnel shaft, which can go down 60, 70, 80 feet. And the gel then oozes its way deeper into the tunnel. The Israelis then set off the explosive, and if it works, it collapses the tunnel entrance and sends up this huge black cloud of smoke.
MARTÍNEZ: Wow. OK, so Hamas leaders have said that this network stretches for some 300 miles. Does Israel think it can destroy the whole thing?
MYRE: So the Israelis say this is a very methodical job. Israel often just blows up the tunnel entrance shaft as I just described. That makes it unusable, at least for now. But it's simply too time-consuming, the Israelis say, to destroy the entire tunnels that go on for miles, crisscrossing Gaza. One military official said that even with this current Israeli approach, this limited approach, it could take months and months.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, Greg, what can you tell us about negotiations over the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza?
MYRE: So they're ongoing, but there's no deal yet. The negotiations seem focused on exchanging women and children, maybe 50 to a hundred from each side. This would be hostages held by Hamas, who are believed to be in those tunnels, and Palestinian women and children jailed in Israel. And this could also include a pause in the fighting for perhaps a couple of days.
And, A, just a couple final notes here. Israel says it has recovered the bodies of two Israeli women who were taken hostage in Gaza. One is a 19-year-old female soldier, the other a 64-year-old woman. Israel says both were found near Shifa Hospital. And also, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen. Food and water are increasingly difficult to find. The World Food Program says virtually all of Gaza's 2 million people now need assistance.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Greg Myre in Tel Aviv. Greg, thanks for your reporting.
MYRE: Sure thing, A.
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MARTÍNEZ: This week there was another big win for the leaders of the United Auto Workers.
MARTIN: It wasn't another presidential visit or a concession from an automaker, it was a yes vote from their own members at General Motors approving the contract their union had negotiated.
MARTÍNEZ: That's no small thing. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us now to explain. Camila, so what's the significance of this vote?
CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Right, so the UAW had embarked on this ambitious and historic strike this fall, and then tentative deals with all of the Big Three automakers brought those strikes to an end. The union had emphasized that those were historic contracts, which is true by any measure.
But what we didn't know until this vote happened was whether that was actually going to be enough for workers, for members. And that was an open question because workers can and sometimes do reject the deals that their leaders of their union negotiate. And in fact, in this vote, some very big GM plants voted no by wide margins, and for a minute it looked like the GM contract might not pass. But overall, about 55% of GM UAW members were in favor. Ford and Stellantis still counting votes, but it looks likely that they're going to approve it by even wider margins.
MARTÍNEZ: Since it looked for a minute like it might not pass, why was there so much opposition?
DOMONOSKE: In a nutshell, many workers thought the union could get even more. Dawnya Ferdinandsen builds transmissions for GM in Toledo, and she was a no vote. She says this contract does have really big wins, but that's after years of even bigger losses.
DAWNYA FERDINANDSEN: It's just clawing back what we've lost. It's not really technically a gain. Even at the end of this contract, we're still not going to be where we would have been had we never lost everything that we lost years ago, so it's a hard thing to swallow.
DOMONOSKE: And those things that the union lost, that includes benefits like retiree health care. You know, this kind of work is really hard on the body. Workers used to be able to keep their spectacular health insurance after retirement - not anymore. The union did not get that back, nor did they bring back pensions for all workers.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. But at the end of the day, I mean, the majority of workers seem to like this contract. So what do they like about it?
DOMONOSKE: Well, it includes significant wage gains, at least 25% over four years. And some workers who are paid less today will see their wages more than double. There are cost of living increases on top of the raises, tied to inflation, a big boost in retirement contributions, a couple things that are really focused on the future, too. One is the right to strike over plant closures. That's meant to be a tool to help fight future job losses. And the union made some progress toward unionizing battery plants. That's important - as the auto industry makes this switch towards electric vehicles, the UAW wants to make sure that the jobs of the future of building batteries are also unionized.
MARTÍNEZ: All right, so it sounds like we're on the verge here, so what's next?
DOMONOSKE: So there's still a few votes left to count but Ford and Stellantis look poised to ratify as well. Once these are all ratified, the union members get their raises, the first chunk of them. The companies will have some certainty about their labor costs and they'll be moving ahead on making their production plans, and that's what's ultimately going to determine how this affects consumers and the wider economy.
The union is setting its sights on expanding unionizing at foreign automakers and at Tesla. They want the UAW to be bigger for the next contract talks, and maybe powerful enough to get back some of the more ambitious demands that the workers didn't get this time. And those non-union companies - Toyota, Hyundai, Honda, most recently Subaru - have all announced significant raises. Companies have an incentive to pay their workers enough that they are not tempted by those union pushes to join the UAW.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thanks a lot.
DOMONOSKE: Thank you.
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MARTÍNEZ: Earlier this week, you heard the Guatemalan president tell NPR he was facing a coup by lawfare. Now that prediction has come to pass.
MARTIN: Prosecutors in Guatemala say they intend to bring charges against president-elect Bernardo Arevalo. And yesterday, police arrested some of his allies. Arevalo called the charges spurious.
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PRESIDENT-ELECT BERNARDO AREVALO: (Through interpreter) We can no longer tolerate this political persecution because if they win, Guatemala loses.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eyder Peralta has been following this story. He joins us now from Mexico City. Eyder, what happened yesterday?
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So, look, beginning in the early morning, police surrounded the homes of some of Bernardo Arevalo's allies. And, you know, Arevalo was brought to power by young people - and we're talking literally just graduated from college young - and some of them were arrested yesterday. They were charged in relation to a protest, the takeover of Guatemala's public university. In one case, we saw one young activist in tears and in handcuffs. And as she was taken to a military prison, her mom hugged her. She gave her a blessing and she told her, quote, "you're good and God knows it, and the good people always triumph."
But later in the afternoon, prosecutors turned their gaze to the big guy. They announced that they were going to seek charges against the president-elect over that same protest. They showed some tweets from Bernardo Arevalo in which he congratulated the students for standing up to what they say is a corrupt university leader. Prosecutors now say they will ask a court to strip the president and his vice president-elect of their immunity so they can proceed with charges.
MARTÍNEZ: All right, so the charges you just described, how real are they? Are they real?
PERALTA: Well, look, when I spoke to the president-elect earlier this week, he warned that this is what would happen, that the government would make up a case against him. One legal scholar I spoke to said that all of these actions were, quote, "outside every reasonable margin of legality." And the United States is taking a similar stance. The State Department called the moves against Bernardo Arevalo, quote, "brazen efforts to undermine Guatemala's peaceful transition of power."
And some context, A - ever since Arevalo won the elections, the Guatemalan government has tried a lot of legal trickery. They've alleged electoral fraud, they've suspended Arevalo's party, they've raided his offices. And even after the election results were certified, they raided the electoral commission's office. Nothing has really stuck. Instead, thousands of people across the country have come out to protest, and the government is now trying something new. They're looking at the president-elect's tweets.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what happens now?
PERALTA: Look, last night, I spoke to Jordan Rodas. He's one of the president-elect's allies. And he would have been thrown in jail yesterday, but he was outside of the country. He says that the government right now is acting like a wounded beast. They're afraid that if Arevalo takes power, they will be prosecuted for corruption, so they will do anything to stay in power, he says. I asked him if there's anything that could be done to stop the government, and he said the U.S. and the European Union have to coordinate their sanctions against the people leading this effort. He says the current sanctions aren't working because, for example, some of the people sanctioned by the U.S. can still fly to Europe. So he's calling for more severe, coordinated sanctions.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta joining us from Mexico City. Thanks a lot.
PERALTA: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.