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News Brief: Gas Hoarding, Israeli-Palestinian Violence, Vulnerable Migrants

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The country's largest gasoline pipeline is restarting after a Russia-based cyberattack forced it to shut down all operations last week.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Still, along the East Coast, there are long lines at pumps. There are signs at gas stations that say no gas. People panic buying fuel is actually creating the problem. North Carolina's governor, Roy Cooper, declared a state of emergency and told people to just stay calm.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROY COOPER: Don't go top off your car and fill up all of your cars because that's really what is driving the shortages right now. It's not a supply issue.

MARTIN: NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us now to talk about the situation. Hey, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Colonial Pipeline supplies nearly half of the East Coast fuel supply. What is the status of their reopening?

DOMONOSKE: They are in the process of restarting the pipeline. That began 5 p.m. yesterday. So it's underway right now. Now, obviously, this is a huge pipeline that we're talking about, runs from Gulf Coast up to New Jersey, carries, like you said, a huge quantity of gas, diesel and jet fuel.

MARTIN: They can't just flip a switch, right?

DOMONOSKE: Exactly. You can imagine it's going to be a bit of a process and will take several days to get back to normal along the supply chain. But one really important element of this disaster is that it's not just about restoring supply. They also need to end what's really a panic.

MARTIN: Right. So how do you do that? I mean, we heard the North Carolina governor urging people to just relax. It's not dire yet. If there isn't an actual shortage, I mean, is this just people's imagination going to the worst-case scenario?

DOMONOSKE: Well, hopefully, the news that the pipeline is reopening will do a lot to quell the concern - right? - because it's showing that things will get back to normal along the supply chain. But right now, we're really trapped in a vicious cycle where you've got people who are afraid of potential shortages based on this very serious supply chain issue. Then they panic buy. They stock up on gasoline. That leads to immediate shortages, which then leads to more panic buying, right? So as of yesterday in North Carolina last night, fully 74% of gas stations had no gas. That's according to the app GasBuddy.

MARTIN: Wow.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, that's a really alarming number, and it's natural to worry. So I just want to pause to emphasize again that a lot of the problem is due to people worrying and going out to get gas when they don't need it. There is a fundamental distribution challenge at play here, too. You can have gas, but it's not necessarily in the right place. And that's not just about the pipeline being down. It's about you need trucks to move gasoline from where it's in storage in the Southeast, in these affected states...

MARTIN: Right.

DOMONOSKE: ...Out to all the gas stations. And it's hard for them to keep up with this incredible spike in demand. And there's a trucker shortage right now that's making things worse. So that's why you've seen things like governors and the federal government easing some regulations that govern the shipping of fuel by truck to try to make it easier for fuel to move around. But, really, that distribution problem would be a lot easier if people were behaving like normal in terms of buying gas.

MARTIN: I mean, we have to note, gas prices are going up too right now, right?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. We just hit $3 nationally on the national average for the first time in seven years. There is a lot going on here. Obviously, when you have a gasoline shortage crisis like we're seeing in the Southeast, that doesn't help gas prices. Certainly, there are some regional, localized spikes that are directly due to this problem. But we've also got - we're heading into summer driving season. That normally pushes prices up. The economy is reviving. So there's other factors at play here, not just the pipeline.

MARTIN: NPR's Camila Domonoske, thank you for that.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Israeli airstrikes into Gaza continue, and Hamas shows no sign of backing down either.

KING: That's right. Officials in Gaza say at least 83 people have been killed, including 17 children. President Biden has spoken to Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself.

KING: Israel says its attacks into Gaza are retaliation for the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. More than a thousand rockets have killed at least seven people in Israel. Now, in much of the Arab and Muslim world, this is all seen as an asymmetrical response to a conflict that was provoked by Israel.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock is covering all this from Beirut. Ruth, thanks for being here. I want to ask about the broader diplomacy at stake. The Trump administration made a really big deal of the so-called Abraham Accords. Can you remind us what those agreements did or did not achieve in this conflict?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Yeah, well, this was an agreement that was made without the Palestinians. They were against it, you know, saying that they wanted countries in the region to avoid deals with Israel until they had a state or a peace agreement. But the United Arab Emirates and then Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain went ahead anyway. The UAE tried to make this deal seem more palatable to its citizens by saying, you know, this is actually a good thing for the Palestinians. We can now influence Israel and try to get better deals for them.

MARTIN: So how are these same countries looking at the violence escalating between Israel and the Palestinians now?

SHERLOCK: Well, this is a really sensitive topic for them. Some say it's even humiliating, especially so for the UAE because it shows its public that, you know, despite those promises at the time, UAE leaders haven't really secured any wins for Palestinians and don't really seem able or willing to influence Israel's actions in that regard. You know, it's interesting seeing how these governments are trying to handle this. The UAE government has criticized Israel but not in as strong of terms as it might have before the agreement. I spoke with Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla about all this. He's a professor of political science at the UAE University.

ABDULKHALEQ ABDULLA: This decision is a long-term decision, a strategic thinking. And this escalation, as awkward as it feels for the UAE and the other Abraham Accord countries, I don't think it's going to have a profound impact.

SHERLOCK: This opinion is somewhat the UAE government line. And I should say that the government is getting some backlash from some of its citizens who are voicing support for the Palestinians on social media. But for the moment, those criticisms don't seem loud enough to really make a difference. But none of this is set in stone, you know, and if the situation in Israel and with the Palestinians keeps escalating this, things could potentially change.

MARTIN: So it was notable that when all this was being negotiated, Saudi Arabia did not join the Abraham Accords. It kind of sat out, but they were reportedly considering doing so. I mean, how is all this affecting that calculus?

SHERLOCK: Well, the Saudis have condemned Israeli police charging the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. There's a strong clerical structure in Saudi Arabia that's hostile to Israel and needs to be listened to by the king and the crown prince. The Saudis have been quietly building their relationship with Israel, though. But, you know, a war in Gaza would complicate that. I should add just quickly that, you know, around the region, countries that oppose the deal are trying to use this situation to score points against their rivals. Iran, the regional rival to the UAE and its ally, Saudi, is saying, for example, that these countries are stabbing Palestinians in the back.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut, thank you.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The Biden administration is expanding exceptions for the most vulnerable migrants coming to the southern border.

KING: Last month, more than 170,000 people were stopped at the border. Most of them were turned back under a public health order that was put in place because of the pandemic. But some people who are in dire need, including families with young kids and transgender people who'd been living in dangerous conditions, are being granted humanitarian exceptions.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration, and he joins us now. Joel, thanks for being here.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you just start off by explaining what kind of restrictions had been put in place at the border because of COVID?

ROSE: Yeah. So these restrictions started back at the beginning of the pandemic when the Trump administration created this public health order that you mentioned that allows immigration authorities to quickly expel most of the migrants who are apprehended after crossing the border. And that has left thousands of migrants stuck in dangerous Mexican border towns where they can become targets for kidnapping and other crimes. The Biden administration has mostly left this public health order in place, but little by little, they have been opening the door to more of these migrants. Teenagers and kids arriving without their parents, for example, have been allowed in to pursue their asylum cases in the U.S. And now the administration is expanding that. We're hearing transgender migrants are getting in and increasingly families with young children.

MARTIN: I mean, the range of vulnerability is vast, right? I mean, how does the administration decide who gets in and who doesn't?

ROSE: Well, we don't really know exactly. And that has caused a lot of confusion in border communities. One migration expert I talked to says it can seem to migrants like a game of chance. What we do know is that the administration is now turning to aid groups for help. The idea is that these groups will screen the migrants who are tested for COVID-19 and then ushered into the U.S. at ports of entry. Right now, it is a patchwork. The ACLU has a program that is up and running, and there is a new partnership in the works known as the Consortium, which includes nonprofit groups and NGOs like the International Rescue Committee. I talked to Raymundo Tamayo, who is the IRC's country director for Mexico.

RAYMUNDO TAMAYO: It is an effort to streamline these kind of humanitarian exemption to provide more of a safe and order mechanism so that the U.S. government can process certain individuals who are displaced in Mexico and in vulnerable situations.

ROSE: The hope is that this will lead to a system that is simpler, less chaotic, and that could help U.S. immigration authorities and at the same time help these migrants who desperately want to get to safety in the U.S.

MARTIN: Let's talk a little bit about the politics of all this. President Biden has taken a lot of heat about the situation at the border. What is the message from the White House on all this right now?

ROSE: Well, the Biden administration continues to say, you know, the border is not open. Remember, they have kept this Trump-era public health order in place for the majority of migrants, and they don't want to encourage more migration. They have repeatedly urged Central Americans not to make the dangerous trek north. But the White House is also under a lot of pressure from immigrant rights groups who say the administration should be doing more to establish a more humane immigration system that Biden promised during the campaign. So the administration is really trying to walk this tightrope. The pressure is pretty intense. April border numbers just came out this week. They show immigration authorities apprehended more than 170,000 migrants for the second month in a row, which hasn't happened in 20 years.

MARTIN: NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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