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A hidden danger in Gaza; a Haitian gang leader speaks up

This image provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shows suspected fentanyl pills seized at Los Angeles International Airport in 2022.
AP
This image provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shows suspected fentanyl pills seized at Los Angeles International Airport in 2022.

Good morning. You're reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today's top stories

There has been a dramatic spike in the number of fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription pills seized by law enforcement, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Drug Policy. The study found that the number of pills seized last year was roughly 2,300 times greater than in 2017. The counterfeit pills look like legit prescription opioid medications — but are often far deadlier. The report highlights the rising threat of cheap and highly potent counterfeit pills, particularly in western states.

Israel has expanded its attacks to central and northern areas of the Gaza Strip. It says it's trying to prevent Hamas from regrouping there. The attacks are happening as all eyes are on Rafah, where Israel rolled in tanks last week despite pressure from the U.S. and U.N. to halt a planned major ground assault.

  • U.S. medical volunteers working at one of the last functioning hospitals in Rafah say they've never seen a worse health crisis
  • NPR's Lauren Frayer tells Up First that the renewed attacks in central and northern Gaza are happening as Israel commemorates its Memorial Day — one of the most somber days of the year. "This is a country where most people do serve in the military, and it's also a country that's been attacked by its neighbors many times since its founding," she reports from Tel Aviv, where sirens wail and traffic stops as people stand at attention. When memorials end at sundown, Frayer says the mood will shift as the country celebrates its Independence Day. 
  • As some Palestinians venture back into parts of Gaza that have been obliterated by months of combat, a new hidden threat emerges: unexploded ordnance. The U.N. says an estimated 7,500 metric tons of live ammunition litter the Gaza Strip. Even if Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire, these bombs could continue to kill and maim Palestinians returning to their homes for years.


Richard "Rick" Slayman, the first human to receive a genetically modified pig kidney transplant, has died nearly two months after the procedure. Massachusetts General Hospital said in a statement that there was "no indication" his death was the result of the transplant. Slayman's surgery was a milestone in the field of xenotransplantation, which involves transplanting organs from one species to another. More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are on the waitlist for organs. Thousands die every year before they can get one.

Picture show

Brunswick, Maine: The northern lights flare in the sky over a farmhouse, late Friday, May 10, 2024.
Robert F. Bukaty / AP
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AP
Brunswick, Maine: The northern lights flare in the sky over a farmhouse, late Friday, May 10, 2024.

The largest geomagnetic storm in nearly two decades hit the Earth last week. A sunspot sent a stream of charged particles toward the planet's atmosphere, resulting in the beautiful aurora seen in different parts of the world. It's been keeping satellite and power grid operators busy as they work to prevent disruptions. The last time a similar event occurred in 2003, it knocked out power in some parts of Sweden.

See photos of the Northern lights spotted across the Earth, from Ukraine to Minnesota. If you missed them, you might still be able to see them this week.

Today's listen

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now runs a gang federation,
Odelyn Joseph / AP
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AP
Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now runs a gang federation.

In March, a coalition of gangs in Haiti toppled the country's Prime Minister, burning down police stations and shutting down ports and the airport in the process. They now control most of the capital city of Port-au-Prince. Jimmy Cherizier — known as Barbeque — is the gang leader who convinced a bunch of gangs in Haiti to stop fighting each other and start fighting the government. He used to be a police officer who led operations against these gangs. He tells NPR's Eyder Peralta that the system made him who he is.

Listen to Barbeque talk about how politicians in Haiti created these gangs, how they use the police to do their "dirty work," and whether he thinks he will survive the Kenyan-led international security force meant to counter gang violence. You can read more about Barbeque here.

3 things to know before you go

Olivia and Liam were the most popular names for girls and boys in 2023, just as they have been in each of the last five years.
Meg Oliphant / Getty Images for Rock 'n' Roll M
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Getty Images for Rock 'n' Roll M
Olivia and Liam were the most popular names for girls and boys in 2023, just as they have been in each of the last five years.

  1. Liam and Olivia remain the most popular baby names in the U.S. for the fifth year in a row. But watch out: One name is rising in popularity and could topple Liam's domination. 
  2. Growing up, Joy Diaz's family dedicated their lives to humanitarian work. They were renters in Mexico City for many years until one day, a man who used to work with them showed up with a bag of money for them to buy a house. She says this unsung hero changed the trajectory of lives for generations of her family.
  3. Barron Trump will not be a delegate at the Republican National Convention. The office of his mother, former first lady Melania Trump, says he has prior obligations.

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. Anandita Bhalerao contributed.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Suzanne Nuyen
[Copyright 2024 NPR]