Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 24, 2021

Belarus forces plane to land and detains opposition journalist, the Israel-Hamas ceasefire holds through a third day, and more

1

Belarus faces outcry after forcing plane to land, detaining journalist

Belarus on Sunday scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet and forced a Ryanair passenger plane to land in Minsk, then arrested an opposition journalist, Roman Protasevich, who was on the plane. European leaders condemned Belarusian authorities. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said those responsible for the "hijacking must be sanctioned." The jetliner was over Belarus, about to enter Lithuanian airspace, when Belarus air traffic control ordered it to turn around, saying there might be explosives on board. Protasevich's popular social media Telegram channel Nexta exposed Belarusian police brutality during the anti-government demonstrations last year. As he was being led away, he reportedly said, "I'll get the death penalty here."

2

Gaza ceasefire holds, Blinken affirms U.S. commitment to 2-state solution

The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas held for a third day on Sunday as Egyptian mediators shuttled between Israel and the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas. Mediators also talked to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Lynn Hastings, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said the U.N. would appeal for aid to rebuild parts of Gaza damaged in the worst fighting in years, which left a dozen Israelis and more than 230 Palestinians dead. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on ABC's This Week that President Biden remained committed to a two-state solution, "so that Israelis and Palestinians can live with equal measures of security, of peace, and of dignity."

3

WSJ: Intelligence report said 3 Wuhan lab staff hospitalized in 2019

Three researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology went to hospitals in November 2019 "with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness," according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report cited in a Wall Street Journal report on Sunday. The details went beyond the content of a State Department fact sheet released near the end of former President Donald Trump's administration. The disclosure was expected to intensify pressure for a more complete investigation of whether the COVID-19 pandemic was started by a virus that escaped the lab. Current and former government officials who have seen the intelligence about the lab researchers disagreed about the strength of the evidence. The Wuhan Institute still hasn't shared raw data or lab records about its studies on coronavirus in bats.

4

CDC looks into small number of heart problems in vaccinated teens

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's vaccine safety group said Sunday that it was investigating reports of heart problems in a very small number of teenagers and young adults who received coronavirus vaccines. The agency said the "relatively few" cases in question might not be related to vaccination. The condition, myocarditis, is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can occur after certain infections. "It may simply be a coincidence that some people are developing myocarditis after vaccination," said Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York. "It's more likely for something like that to happen by chance, because so many people are getting vaccinated right now."

5

Gates: Former Republican presidents wouldn't recognize today's GOP

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said Sunday that the five Republican presidents he has worked for wouldn't "recognize the Republican Party today." The values and the principles the GOP "stood for under those five presidents are hard to find these days," Gates told John Dickerson, host of CBS's Face the Nation. Dickerson asked Gates about the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the rejection of the November election results by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. Gates praised Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was recently ousted from a GOP leadership post for speaking out against Trump's election fraud claims, calling her courageous and saying few elected Republicans really believe the election was stolen.

6

Death toll in Italy cable-car accident rises to 14

The death toll from a cable-car accident in northern Italy rose to at least 14 on Sunday. The lone survivor was a young child who was hospitalized in serious condition and being treated for broken bones. The cable car was carrying visitors to a mountaintop with views of the popular, picturesque Lake Maggiore when a cable apparently broke, sending the car plummeting about 50 feet to the ground among pine trees near the summit of Mottarone peak. "It was a terrible, terrible scene," said Marcella Severino, mayor of Stresa, where the accident occurred. Six of those killed were Israeli citizens. The Italian government said a commission would investigate the accident, which was expected to renew debate over the state of Italy's transportation infrastructure.

7

Rhode Island becomes 8th state to reach vaccination milestone

Rhode Island has become the eighth U.S state where 70 percent of the adult population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, CNN reported Sunday, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont also have reached the milestone. Twenty-five states and Washington, D.C., have fully vaccinated at least half of their adults. The number of new cases nationwide has fallen below 30,000 per day for the first time since June 2020. Deaths also have dropped to rates not seen since last summer. The improvement has come along with progress in the U.S. vaccination push. Nearly half of Americans have received at least one dose.

8

2 killed, 12 injured in N.J. house-party shooting

At least two people were killed and 12 others wounded in a mass shooting at a family house party in Cumberland County, New Jersey, late Saturday night. "No arrests have been made, and the motive and incident remain under investigation," New Jersey State Police posted on Facebook. Hundreds of guests of all ages were reportedly at the party. Neighbors reported hearing several gunshots in rapid succession, and that partygoers ran through their yards and asked to take refuge in their houses. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) called the shooting "horrific" in a statement Sunday, and said "this despicable and cowardly act of gun violence only steels our commitment to ensuring New Jersey leads the nation in passing and enforcing gun laws."

9

Congo reports at least 15 deaths from volcanic eruption

Lava from an unexpected volcanic eruption killed at least 15 people in eastern Congo villages and destroyed more than 500 homes, officials and witnesses said Sunday. Aline Bichikwebo escaped her village with her baby, but she said mother and father died when the family's home burned up in the lava flow. "I am asking for help because everything we had is gone," she said. Tens of thousands of people fled the city of Goma after Mount Nyiragongo erupted on Saturday night, UNICEF said. More than 170 children were feared missing. "People are still panicking and are hungry," resident Alumba Sutoye said. "They don't even know where they are going to spend the night." Goma, which was devastated the last time the volcano erupted in 2002, was spared extensive damage. Hundreds died in the previous eruption, and more than 100,000 were left homeless.

10

Mickelson makes history with PGA Championship win

Phil Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship on Sunday, becoming the oldest golfer to win a major tournament. Mickelson, 50, won by two shots, leaving Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Kopeka tied for second. The previous record for oldest major winner was held by Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA Championship when he was 48 years, 4 months, and 18 days old. Mickelson has now won six major championships. He won his last major title in 2013. As he played the final hole, fans in the packed gallery shouted his name. The cheering crowd flocked to him after he landed his approach shot on the green with a two-shot lead and victory assured. "It's an incredible experience. I've never had something like that," Mickelson said.

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