27.07.06 — port town of Sidon
From the Mediterranean eastwards, it's a sea of misery. The whole town is awash with people who've fled south — 50,000 in 10 days, 60 per cent of whom arrived in the last three days.
Cameraman Neil Hamilton and I head for the town hall.
It's not a case of finding a story — everything you look at is a story — the man weeping after being reunited with his children, the Bint Jbail town council in exile in one office, the man covered in shrapnel wounds, the exhausted women and their glassy-eyed children. The drive south made us anxious — we had to take the mountain roads as the highway had holes in it. Every lorry we passed was a potential Hezbollah resupply, and a potential Israeli Air Force target.
Getting back to Beirut was a relief.
28.07.06 — Beirut
After 15 days of scrambling through rubble, looking at dead people and being scared, I'm happy our reinforcements arrived a few days ago. David Bowden and Stuart Ramsay are at the really sharp end down south, armed only with producer Nick Toksvig and his strange Danish humour. Lisa Holland is our flak jacket-wearer in the capital, so I can start concentrating on the diplomacy. We've interviewed the President and Prime Minister, broken the story that Condoleezza Rice is coming to town, now what? Producer Tim Gallagher and I start working the phones, sometimes via London — it's illegal to call Israel direct from Lebanon.
Our work is interrupted by five enormous explosions.
Haret Hriek in Beirut has been hit — it's two kilometres from us, but the shock waves wash through us and temporarily rearrange our insides. We begin to hear the planes more often and I begin to think of home more often.
29.07.06 — Beirut
Dish day. I chain myself to the hotel balcony via an earpiece and various cables leading to the sat dish on the roof. Eating bananas for energy we go live most hours for 16 hours, trying to pull together the various strands from around the world.
It's sneeringly referred to as "rooftop journalism", but I think it's an essential part of the overall coverage. We have teams in Northern Israel, Jerusalem, Haifa, New York, Washington, New York, Damascus, Tyre and Beirut — putting the context into the coverage has to come from somewhere, and as long as the rooftop isn't the only place for the coverage then it's as good as anywhere else.
In a rare break I read a piece in the Daily Mail online about reporters not wearing ties, as the writer did in the 1960s when working in hot climes. It fails to recognise that this is 2006 and that Britain has moved on. Relax, man!
30.07.06 — Beirut
I was going to leave today: my family has already departed London for the annual holiday and, for the second year running, I'm not there, so want to play catch-up.
Then the Israelis bomb Qana. David Bowden is one of the first reporters on the scene. I watch the graphic footage being shown on the Arab satellite channels and feel for him.
The children are brought out dead on live television and it's heartbreaking stuff.
We ring London and argue that presentation should be done out of Beirut, not Jerusalem. A quick positive answer means we roll with it all day. I've just about had enough — 23 days on now without a break. I almost call Lisa Holland "Lisa Hurd" (Emma Hurd is our Middle East correspondent)
as I introduce her live from the Beirut UN HQ, where a mob is breaking into the building. It's time to go.
31.07.06 — Aleppo
I set off at 4.30am and drive through the deserted Beirut streets, heading north. By 6am, it's light and we are past Tripoli. We've had to take the northern border route into Syria because the Beirut/Damascus crossing was bombed overnight and is closed. Driving through Syria, we pass vehicle after vehicle with images of Hezbollah leader Sheik Nasrallah on the back window. One man's terrorist, another man's car sticker.
At Aleppo airport, I'm so tired I leave my phone at security and my bag in departure — happily I'm reunited with both after a few minutes. On the BA direct flight I'm too tired to read, too tired to sleep. I watch Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. It's brilliant — better even than the first film. For the first time in three weeks I stop thinking about "the situation".
01.08.06 — London
an't sleep, so get into work at 7am. Weird thing happens: Sky is on Heathrow's flight path and as I hear a plane coming, for a millisecond I think: "Israeli Air Force" and feel that slight tightening of the stomach. It's silly because it wasn't even that bad a trip —but it reminds me not to be blasé. Yes, things were worse for the reporters in the south and worst of all for the civilians, but the last three weeks have still not been normal life. Foreign affairs producer Zoe Usherwood and I work on a piece for Wednesday about past UN peacekeeping missions. I'm demob happy.
02.08.06 — Cornwall
Pack. Go. Beach, ice cream, children, wife. Memo to self: this is real too, leave Beirut behind.