News Headlines 5/18/21

ISRAEL, HAMAS CONTINUE TO EXCHANGE FIRE; BIDEN SUPPORTS CEASE-FIRE: Israel and Hamas again exchanged fire early Tuesday (May 18th), with Israel launching more airstrikes in Gaza and Hamas militants firing rockets into Israel as the latest military conflict enters a second week. One of the Israeli airstrikes brought down a six-story building, which AP described as being home to libraries and educational centers belonging to the Islamic University. Israel said its targets included rocket launchers, fighters, and Hamas commanders’ homes, and stated it had heavily damaged a vast network of Hamas tunnels. The death toll in Gaza has risen to 212 people, including 61 children, while in Israel it stands at 10 people including one child. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, “We will continue to operate as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”

President Biden had a call with Netanyahu yesterday in which he expressed support for a cease-fire. However, Biden, who’s been coming under pressure, including from Democrats in Congress, to do more to try to stop the conflict, stopped short of going further and calling for an immediate end to the violence by both sides. However, Biden expressed increased concern about the attacks, with the White House saying in its readout of the call that the president, quote, “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians.” AP cited an administration official as saying the U.S. not explicitly demanding a cease-fire reflects the administration’s determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas.

U.S. BOOSTING COVID VACCINES BEING SHARED BY 20 MILLION: President Biden said yesterday (May 17th) that the U.S. will share an additional 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with other nations over the next six weeks, bringing the total to 80 million doses after having previously committed to share 60 million. Being sent will be doses of Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, adding on to the commitment for 60 million AstraZeneca doses. Speaking at the White House, Biden said, “We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that’s raging globally is under control,” stating, “Our nation’s going to be the arsenal of vaccines for the rest of the world.”

REP. GAETZ ASSOCIATE PLEADS GUILTY TO SEX TRAFFICKING CHARGES: Florida politician Joel Greenberg, a former county tax collector and longtime associate of Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, pled guilty to sex trafficking charges yesterday (May 17th) and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of a plea deal. Greenberg, a central figure in the Justice Department’s sex trafficking probe of Gaetz, pled guilty to six of the nearly three dozen charges he’d faced, including sex trafficking of a minor, and admitted he’d paid at least one underage girl to have sex with him and other men.  Prosecutors are reportedly investigating whether Gaetz and Greenberg paid underage girls and escorts or offered them gifts in exchange for sex. Gaetz was not mentioned in the plea deal and has denied the allegations.

SUPREME COURT AGREES TO HEAR MAJOR ABORTION CASE: The Supreme Court agreed yesterday (May 17th) to hear a major abortion case that pro-choice activists say is a threat to abortion rights. The case is over Mississippi asking to be allowed to enforce a law that bans abortion after 15 weeks or pregnancy, with the issue being whether states can ban abortions before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. Lower courts had blocked the law as violating Supreme Court precedent protecting a woman’s right to abortion before that time. If the high court rules in favor of Mississippi, it could open the door to states enacting more restrictive laws that  could ban abortions as early as when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be just six weeks into pregnancy. The case is likely to be argued this fall.