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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Israeli forces have withdrawn from Gaza's largest hospital complex after a two-week battle.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israel said that battle was necessary because Hamas forces had regrouped there. Meanwhile, in central Gaza, Israeli airstrikes killed four people, including two journalists, in another hospital complex. This all comes as the International Court of Justice, the main judicial body of the U.N., is ordering Israel to allow more aid to enter Gaza. The court says famine there is no longer imminent - it has already set in. Israel denies that.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Jane Arraf joins us now from Amman. Jane, what happened with the strike on the hospital in central Gaza?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: The U.N.'s health organization said it had a humanitarian team at Al-Aqsa hospital at the time. It says during the airstrike, its staff were unhurt, but four other people were killed. Now, Israel called them precision strikes on a command center of a militant Hamas ally. But Gaza's government media office said the Israeli airstrikes killed a journalist and a photojournalist. The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 90 Palestinian journalists and media workers have been killed since the war in Gaza began. But also, Israeli forces withdrew yesterday from another hospital complex, al-Shifa, following a two-week assault.

The U.N.'s World Health Organization says at least 21 patients died during that military operation. Gaza health officials say they were prevented from evacuating patients and staff from the badly damaged complex, where there's already a severe shortage of medicine, medical supplies and even drinking water. Israel says it was not responsible for any patient deaths.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So let's get into living conditions in Gaza. Israel says that it is - denies that it is blocking aid. So then why are people starving and patients going without basic care?

ARRAF: Well, simply, according to U.N. and other aid agency officials, as well as the U.S. government, not enough aid is being allowed in. The U.S. has been pressing Israel to open more border crossings. Israel and Egypt control the Gaza borders, and Israel has imposed extensive restrictions, it says, to ensure weapons aren't getting through. So the upshot is that now only about half the number of aid trucks compared to levels before the war are being allowed in by Israel, according to U.N. officials. And the UN's International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to allow more aid, although that court has no way to enforce its order.

MARTÍNEZ: Any way to know how many trucks are waiting to enter?

ARRAF: Well, it's difficult to get specific numbers, but most aid officials say several thousand trucks are waiting near the border with Egypt. A Jordanian security official told me in March that satellite images showed 30,000 trucks waiting to enter Rafah, including in holding areas. Over the weekend, he still insisted that's the case, but most aid officials say the figure is substantially lower. Estimates generally range from between 3,000 to 7,000 trucks waiting. The World Food Program and its partners say they have enough food to feed everyone in Gaza, it's just not being allowed in. And they estimate that at least 500 trucks a day would need to enter. Right now, it's about 200 a day.

MARTÍNEZ: Any aid that is actually getting in, what kind of aid is that?

ARRAF: Apart from that relatively small number of trucks, the U.S., Jordan and other countries have been doing regular airdrops with military cargo planes. But that's a fraction of the amount that can be loaded on trucks. And a U.S.-based aid group, World Central Kitchen, yesterday said it had sent a second round of food by sea from Cyprus. But as the U.S. points out, all that doesn't replace aid going in by land.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Jane Arraf. Thank you very much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: Here in California, many fast food workers are getting a big raise today.

MARTIN: Their minimum wage is going up to $20 an hour. That's because of a new state law passed last year based on a deal between labor and restaurant groups.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR business correspondent Alina Selyukh has been talking to restaurant owners and workers. So, Alina, the statewide minimum wage in California is $16 an hour, though in some cities and counties it's above 18. So how big of a deal could this raise be for workers?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: You know, talking to workers, they say it's pretty huge, but also not quite a windfall. California is one of the most expensive states to live in. Overall, about half a million Californians are estimated to work as cooks, cashiers, baristas and other fast food jobs. Most of them are women, immigrants, people of color. Many live below the poverty line, and generally fast food jobs are among the lowest-paid in the U.S. Wages there have stagnated for decades. I spoke with McDonald's worker Jaylene Loubett. She's in school now, so working part-time, and she's supporting her parents, who are facing medical troubles. Her last wage was just over $17 an hour.

JAYLENE LOUBETT: There are some days where I'd struggle to put cents together to put food on the table. But I feel like with just a couple more dollars, I have a little bit more of a wiggle room there. People need to realize that $20 compared to the cost of living in Los Angeles, it's still not enough to feel secure.

SELYUKH: She'd love to feel secure. Loubett shares a one-bedroom apartment with her parents, so she hopes to use her raise to start saving toward a bigger home or at least to, you know, stress a bit less about bills.

MARTÍNEZ: Sure. Now, what about the restaurant owners? Those higher wages have to be paid one way or another.

SELYUKH: Yes, and they're worried. So this only affects fast food, mainly big chains like McDonald's, Subway, Starbucks, Chipotle. But the people most vocal on this are local franchisees - you know, folks maybe own a hundred locations, but maybe they own just two locations. I spoke with Michaela Mendelsohn. She has six locations of El Pollo Loco, and she tried to preemptively raise prices 3%, 4% but lost customers.

MICHAELA MENDELSOHN: People are pushing back on higher prices. We don't have nearly the margins to pay for this change. And the only way to survive is to get more efficient, to reduce labor hours. And, you know, I hate saying that.

SELYUKH: More efficient can mean, you know, simpler menus or more automation. We did see hundreds of Pizza Hut delivery drivers get laid off ahead of the wage increase. But mostly restaurant owners talk about raising prices and cutting workers' hours.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Alina, whenever there's a hike in the minimum wage, whether it's federal, state or local, there's always a debate over how people and businesses are affected. Any history at all to hint how all that might play out?

SELYUKH: There's one example that's been studied a fair amount, and that's a minimum wage hike in Seattle about a decade ago. And researchers there found that overall, restaurants adjusted and adapted. Workers generally didn't lose jobs, but they did lose hours. Many lost hours. Still, overall, they came out making more money in the end. Now, California will be the new big case study for all this. And of course, California often sets the tone for other states on labor, and advocates hope for exactly that on higher minimum pay.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh. Alina, thank you very much.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: After a college basketball weekend full of March Madness, the men's Final Four is set. And there are two powerhouse games tonight to complete the women's Final Four.

MARTIN: And it's a great day to be a North Carolina State fan. Both their men's and women's teams made their Final Fours, and UConn could duplicate that feat if their women's team wins tonight. But the real headliner - who're we kidding? - is the other women's game featuring the sport's two biggest stars, Iowa's Caitlin Clark and LSU's Angel Reese.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, of course. That's the marquee game of the night. Ben Pickman of The Athletic joins us now. OK, so two huge games coming up on the women's side, UConn versus USC and, of course, Iowa-LSU. Here's how Caitlin Clark of Iowa sees this moment.

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CAITLIN CLARK: I think it's just super awesome. I think, you know, if I was just a basketball fan in general, I would be glued to the TV like no other. And I think women's basketball fans know how special and cool this moment will be. I think the viewership numbers will show that.

MARTÍNEZ: Ben, I will regrettably be asleep for this game. I'm going to record it, but what are you going to be looking for in each game?

BEN PICKMAN: Well, the first thing is Caitlin Clark and how LSU chooses to defend Caitlin Clark. Last year, their strategy was really to try and let Clark get hers, accept that she's going to score 25-30 points in every single game - and this is a common tactic that a lot of coaches implore when it comes to guarding Clark - and really clamp down on the players around her. That was something that Kim Mulkey, the coach of LSU, also reiterated on Sunday, saying that you just hope to contain her a little bit and make sure you do your job on the other four players.

So if LSU is able to contain some of those other four players, then they have a really good chance to win. And they match up very well. Their frontcourt players, their centers and forwards in particular, have a matchup advantage over Iowa. So Iowa is going to have their hands full trying to slow down the LSU bigs.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, what about that UConn-USC game? I mean, UConn is arguably the greatest college basketball team on the women's side of all time. And USC used to be one of the greats of all time, too. That's going to be a great matchup.

PICKMAN: Exactly, it is two programs with a lot of tradition. The big headliners are Paige Bueckers, who is the star of UConn, and JuJu Watkins, a freshman star of USC. The thing that is going to be so imperative is UConn is a team that does not have a lot of depth. They primarily play around just six players. Three players played 40 minutes in their victory in the Elite Eight over Duke. Two players played 40 minutes in their second-round win. So if they get into foul trouble, they have their hands full and not a lot of players to turn to.

USC, everything runs through JuJu Watkins. She's an AP All-American. She averaged 27 points per game during the regular season, second nationally behind just Caitlin Clark. So she is that good. And this could be a real national coming out party for her. And, frankly, this is one of the most anticipated nights of women's college basketball ever, or in recent memory at the very least. So both games, as you mentioned, huge headliners, huge stories and huge stars.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, I can't believe UConn women the underdog in a game this close to the end there. Now, on the men's side, North Carolina State men's team pulled off probably an even bigger upset than the women's team.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IAN EAGLE: And it's over.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

EAGLE: This is what dreams are made of. An unlikely run to the Final Four for NC State.

MARTÍNEZ: That was heard yesterday on CBS Sports. I mean, the Wolfpack, clearly Cinderella story this year. Tell us about their improbable run.

PICKMAN: It starts and centers around their big, DJ Burns, who's this kind of lovable, 6'9 forward in the middle. The strength coach of that team told my colleague at The Athletic that he's like a polar bear.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

PICKMAN: And he is someone who is kind of nifty, great footwork around the paint. He is really the star of the show for NC State. He's become the hero of this March Madness tournament. And NC State had to win the ACC tournament, their conference tournament, to even just reach the NCAA tournament. So it's been this unbelievable run for a few weeks now, not just in these last one or two weeks.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Ben Pickman of The Athletic. Ben, thanks.

PICKMAN: Thanks a lot for having me. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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.

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