There must be a secret clause in my contract with FOX I don’t know about. It seems I can only cover ugly war zones situated near beautiful nature scenes.
I reported last summer on the fierce fighting between Israel and Hezbollah from a resort that resembled Club Med in southern Lebanon. Now, we’re covering the tense stand-off between the Lebanese military and the al Qaeda linked Fatah al Islam group along a beautiful stretch of Mediterranean coastline, edged by snow-capped mountains.
Correspondents often joke that one day our memoirs will be titled, “Rooftops and Parking Lots We Have Known.” As usual, we’re perched on the roof of a building overlooking the Palestinian refugee camp where the terrorists are holed up. It’s not really a camp, but a grubby two square mile pile of concrete buildings, where in better times (ha!), 30,000 people live. Also in company are approximately 300 Usama bin Laden loving terrorists.
The place is a destroyed ghost town, emptied of much of the population. Those who lived here managed to escape during lulls in the fighting between the militants and the army. You see, there is a deal signed long ago between Lebanon and the Palestinians; Lebanon would not enter the camps and Palestinians were allowed to govern themselves. Unfortunately, that’s also allowed an assortment of bad guys, including terrorists, to rise up inside the walls of the camp.
The fighting has been hard and the casualties have been high, but if it’s any consolation, the Lebanese (many of them are Muslim) we spoke with wanted nothing to do with these bad guys and their anti-U.S., anti-Israel manic mentality. “We don’t know them,” one camp resident screamed at me, “They’re not from our camp. We don’t want them.” That sentiment was echoed by the leaders of Arab countries and groups around region.
At the beginning, the Lebanese military was squatting on the outskirts of the camp, pounding away at possible terror positions. Now, they’re getting ready to possibly go in on the ground. We made the rounds this morning to see if any of the units were willing to do an embed with an American TV team. I don’t think the Lebanese brass have quite gotten the PR hang of their U.S. colleagues. The answer was a quick and emphatic, "No." We moved on.
We also made some discreet inquiries about getting into the destroyed camp itself to have a look around. Some, mostly Arab, journalists spent some time there. I must admit, the idea of an American TV reporter hanging out in the lair of a bunch of bloodthirsty militants didn’t exactly sound like a walk in the park, but we gave it a try. Those close to me will be happy to hear that those in charge decided I had to strike that fun visit off of my list of things to do.
Back to where we currently are — up on the roof. We’re occasionally dodging sprays of sniper bullets, jolted by thuds of tank fire, and rattled by every heavy bit of metal the Lebanese military have at their ready to do the possible deed. I kind of want something one way or another to happen … sooner rather than later. I’ve been doing the “tension running high” reports for two days straight now … and even if it is, it begins to sound repetitive after awhile.
So often in these situations, I’m aided by an extremely helpful cast of characters. My cameraman, Pierre Zakrewski, is with me all the way. He and I have been in more bad places together than I care to recount (OK, I'll recount them … Fallujah, Afghanistan, Pakistan.) Not only is he a whiz of a shooter/editor/technician, he’s also a totally mad Irish/French/Polish mongrel, and my good friend. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Additionally, I’ve got some great help from producer from home, Melanie Schuman; my lovely and recently engaged London bureau producer Kim Miller, that manages things from Beirut; the two Ali’s — “Ali the Driver” who gets us out of jams,on and off the road, and “Ali the Fixer” who quietly works his Lebanese military sources to help things make sense in this crazy part of the world; and lastly, the always cool and laconic Steve Harrigan (and company) who will be watching the action from another side of the camp.
Just to add a bit more of a homey feel, we’re staying at the Quality Inn, in nearby Tripoli, Lebanon. The hotel restaurant has something nearly resembling an American club sandwich on the menu. Unfortunately, there’s mostly Arabic music videos on TV.
Those are certainly better conditions than the innocent civilians who have been caught in the middle of this madness and then have been pushed out of their homes. Better than the Lebanese troops trying to catch up on some sleep on top of their tanks and APCs. It’s certainly much better than the terrorists have it now … and in a looming deadly showdown with the Lebanese. But then again, they picked this battle … didn’t they?
Greg Palkot serves as foreign correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in London. Most recently, Palkot reported live from the crisis in the Middle East. You can read his complete bio here .
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.