- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 15, 2006

War in Lebanon

Freelance reporter and photographer Mitchell Prothero returned to his home base in Beirut on Monday after a monthlong assignment embedded with American forces in Afghanistan.

“I had contemplated going directly to Gaza,” he said, to report on Israeli military action in search of a soldier kidnapped two weeks earlier by Hamas militants. “But I decided to take a short break at home. I was going to decide on Thursday whether to head down there on Friday.”

Events saved him the trouble.

“I was wakened up Wednesday when a friend called from Bourj al-Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut with a lot of Lebanese Shi’ites and now Iraqis,” Mr. Prothero said. “He said people were handing out sweets and Palestinians were shooting in the air to celebrate the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.

“My first reaction was, ‘I won’t need to go to Gaza. Gaza is coming here.’ ”

Staff reporters for newspapers and wire agencies simply notify their editors and spring into action when big news breaks in their territory. Freelancers first have to make sure they have somewhere to sell the story.

“I immediately sent out e-mails to clients and started talking to people, setting up drivers and alerting Lebanese friends, people I hire to watch the news for me,” Mr. Prothero said.

Within about 90 minutes, he and his girlfriend, a freelance photographer on assignment for Newsweek magazine, were in a car and on their way to southern Lebanon, the scene of the most intense action.

By that time the Israeli counterattack was well under way, with intense bombing and shelling of bridges and highways, apparently designed to hamper movement on the roads and make it more difficult for Hezbollah militants to move their captives away from the border.

“A number of bombs had hit the roads going south,” Mr. Prothero said, “but we were able to get around them and made our way as far as Nabatiya. After that they had taken out the bridges.”

A funeral for 12

Lebanese soldiers and Hezbollah militants were preventing Western journalists from going any farther in any case, Mr. Prothero said.

“I think Hezbollah was worried about American spies going into the zone of operations, and as for the Lebanese, it just would have made more political problems for them to have American journalists killed by Israeli air strikes.”

Mr. Prothero and his girlfriend were both able to get the pictures they needed and then headed back to Beirut to transmit the photos. Mr. Prothero then settled down to write two stories, one for us and one for the online magazine Salon.

They were up the next morning before 6, this time to radio reports that Israeli aircraft were bombing the capital’s airport.

“We had to take long detours,” he said, “because of all the bombing on the main roads, especially the coastal road connecting Beirut with Sidon and Tyre.

“We went first to the airport, where there were craters in the runways, but there wasn’t much else to see. Then we got a phone call that a television station run by Hezbollah had been hit; the place was relatively close to the airport in the southern suburbs so we headed over there.

“But when we got there, the Hezbollah guys were not allowing pictures, and we were afraid the Israelis were going to come back and finish it off. The Hezbollah were very nervous and jumpy, so we had to get out of there.”

The two headed south again to Nabatiya, where they found a group of Lebanese preparing a funeral for a man, his wife, and their 10 children, who were killed when an Israeli air strike flattened their home earlier that day.

“I think maybe the guy was a Hezbollah official but his relatives were not sure,” Mr. Prothero said. “His brother said he really hoped the guy was with Hezbollah, because at least that would give some meaning to what had happened.”

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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