It’s dawn now. I’ve finished my week of night shifts (remember we’re seven hours ahead of New York time here). Producer John will be out shopping this morning for a thousand things we’ll need for the trip a trip down south. Bureau chief Kim will be busy handling 500 logistical nightmares involved in covering a world crisis like this. And local fixer Danny will be helping us understand the landscape. And getting ready to open his new night spot once all of this calms down. Stay tuned.
Friday, July 21
This day we set out to find out how important the message was that the Lebanese Army would fight to defend the sovereignty of Jordan, essentially alongside Hezbollah. We went to one of the top journalists in town, Michel Touma of the French language newspaper L’Orient Le Jour.
Michel had a lot of interesting observations that made me think about a lot of what was happening in the area. First, he said it wasn’t all that bad that the Lebanese Army would get involved in the fighting. They wouldn’t do much, he confided to me. But people would respect them more. Then they could take over the South like they should.
Then he said that a good chunk of the population wasn’t pleased at all that Hezbollah was dragging his country into another war. He repeated again and again what a lot of folks believe: that Tehran was calling the shots and basically running the militant organization. Remember, this isn’t coming from inside the Beltway.
And then he said something that was quite unbelievable to hear from deep inside Lebanon. He said many in Lebanon believe it wasn’t all that bad a thing that Israel was coming across the border if it got rid of Hezbollah.
Thursday, July 20
This day we went to see the damage. Hezbollah had laid on a “photo op” (photo opportunity) for the foreign press to view one of the more damaged neighborhoods in the city. It was an eye-opener for sure. An area that was once a busy commercial and residential middle class area was turned into a something that looked like Dresden after World War II.
We stumbled though the rubble, smelling the smoke still pouring from “pancaked” apartment buildings. We looked at the debris left around: a poster of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah, a book about the Ayatollah Khomeni, a snap shot of a young boy.
No one was there. Everyone left. The place was an urban ghost town. But it was also, in Israel’s estimation, Hezbollah headquarters. And that’s why they’d blasted the heck out of the place. The night before there were reports that a bunker containing the leadership of the group was hit. It turned out not to be true.
I suggested to our Hezbollah host that the Israelis said the militants used the civilians as shields for their activities. “No,” he replied, “We live here. We don’t live on the moon. The Israelis are lying. Like always.”
Wednesday, July 19
Today I found out how the “other half” was doing. That is, the Lebanese who didn’t have the money to flee the country but had to get away from the bombing, from South Beirut and from the southern part of the country. Another Hezbollah Heartland. They were filling a park in the center of the city. Waiting for local aid agencies to place them somewhere. The Lebanese government was overwhelmed.
And boy, were they angry — at Israel and at the United States. And, from time to time, they were angry at us. But these people, who were perhaps most affected by the actions of Hezbollah, were not angry with the group. They praised it. It seemed like they felt they were caught in the middle of something they couldn’t control. Some asked if we could get them out of there.
We went to another place where the refugees were staying, a school on the Christian side of the city. Shiite Muslims camping out in classrooms of this “Ecole” (a carry-over from French colonial days). The fellow running the center said on Sunday he had 6 families. Now he had around 200. And they kept on coming.
Tuesday, July 18
Today I watched a more orderly evacuation — now at the Beirut port because by this time the roads were too dangerous to use. It was organized by the nations of the foreigners who were here when the bombs started to fall. I found the numbers quite high for such a small country: 25,000 Americans, 20,000 French, 10,000 Britons. But nothing seems to be going fast enough for anyone.
So I watched while some American University students were inserted into the end of the roster of a Norwegian chartered car ferry heading for Cyprus. And then a British destroyer cruised in to take away 180 women and children. I didn’t like the sound of that: “Women and children first." And then a cruise ship arrived which would take over a thousand Americans away the next day. Someone joked that it looked like the Titanic.
Monday, July 17
Why is it that we’re always going in one direction and the rest of the world is going the in the other? I thought of that as my team and I were entering Lebanon overland from Syria, the only way to do it now that the Beirut airport’s runways were sporting a bunch of holes courtesy of the Israeli Air Force.
I watched while lines of cars and people tried to fight their way through the checkpoint to leave the country. Five days of bombardment from Israeli planes going after Hezbollah strongholds had driven thousands of Lebanese from their homes. The ones with more money than others were getting out.
As were foreign nationals, like two women I met with Canadian passports. One was down south with her kids when the bombing drove her out and on the road. Another was up near the Syrian border when a bombing raid came too close for her comfort. Both were having trouble getting out. Both didn’t quite have the right paperwork. I had to move on. I hope they made it out.
Arriving into Beirut was surreal. It's one of the few hot spots I’d missed in my travels for FOX News. But it carries with it so much history I have read about. Most recently I’d heard from friends about the rebirth of this so-called Paris of the Mideast. But when I arrived all of the clubs, restaurants and high-end shops that opened up in recent years had closed down. Once again the city was in the middle of a conflict.
I was thrown into the live shift the first night, and heard the rumble of bombs dropped by Israeli jet fighters. The HQ for Hezbollah was, incredibly, just about four miles from our position in a rather swank hotel. Bizarre. Listening to war from a businessman’s suite.
Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.