Journalists in peril as Beirut burns

Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera has complained of being targeted by Israeli forces while covering the current fighting between Israel and Lebanese militia.

And the many British journalists reporting from the region feel increasingly exposed to danger covering in the conflict.

Press Gazette has learned that the BBC's Gavin Hewitt and The Independent's Robert Fisk both narrowly escaped death this week.

Veteran Independent Beirut correspondent Fisk told Press Gazette: "I drive around with all my car windows open to listen out for Israeli jets, ready to leap out and jump in a ditch. The other day, I was in the southern suburbs [of Beirut]. The Israelis were coming in to bomb and we turned the car round. I guess there were four seconds after turning the car round and driving away — a missile hit the position where the car had been. If we were four seconds too slow, you wouldn't be talking to me today."

He added: "There's the usual question whether you should have flak jackets or not.

There's always the same debate: does a flak jacket protect you or does it make you move slowly? I believe the best thing to do is to run like hell and drive like fuck when you're under air attack. But you can't run like hell if you've got a flak jacket on and a helmet on." ITV News currently has six crews in the region, including presenter Alastair Stewart, anchoring the ITV evening and 10.30pm news from Beirut, Middle East correspondent Julian Manyon in Haifa, Juliet Bremner in Jerusalem and Tim Rogers in Cyprus.

Sky News has a 40-strong team covering the conflict. Sky foreign editor Adrian Wells said: "There is only a limited amount that we can do to predict where shells will fall."

The BBC has 50 staff in Lebanon alone.

World editor Jon Williams illustrated the dangers for journalists when he spoke to Press Gazette on Wednesday, saying: "Despite having the safety team in Beirut, Gavin Hewitt went out on assignment and an Israeli rocket landed 70 yards away. It's impossible to foresee those sort of situations.

They were working in a Christian area, which we believed to be safe."

Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Jerusalem, Walid Al Omary, told Press Gazette that while his crew was in Nablus, on the West Bank, covering Israeli operations, technician Wael Tantous was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet by an Israeli soldier.

Al Omary said: "The crew were not even close to the Israelis. Wael was simply standing there while we covered the events."

Al Omary also alleges that the Israeli soldiers drove at Al Jazeera's reporter, Jivara Al Budeiri, in an apparent attempt to interrupt the report.

Earlier this week Al Omary was arrested along with his crew by Israeli security personnel and was released two days later.

Sunday Times foreign editor Sean Ryan said that Marie Colvin, one of his Beirut correspondents, told him she had been returning to the Lebanese city of Tyre from a nearby village when a bomb hit the road behind her.

Daily Telegraph foreign editor Alan Philps said: "I understand that the reporters who are in Tyre are basically in a UN compound and a hotel, and are finding it quite hard to move around and are very aware of the dangers of being rocketed or bombed by the Israelis."

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