Reporters Struggle With Dangers In West Bank

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By: Joe Strupp

As Christine Spolar traveled back to Jerusalem Tuesday evening after a busy day in war-torn Ramallah, she had two things on her mind: organizing her news story of the day, and finding an armored car. Spolar, a veteran foreign correspondent who’s been in the Middle East since February as the Jerusalem correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, initially bought a new flak jacket and helmet when she began her new assignment six weeks ago.

But as fighting in and around PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s compound has intensified — and suicide bombers striking elsewhere — the need for even more protection has grown. Spolar, 44, told E&P via cell phone, as she drove back to her Jerusalem apartment, that she was contemplating whether to buy, lease, or hire an armored car to carry her around the battle-worn area.

Spolar, who has covered military conflicts in Bosnia and Albania in recent years, was the lone Tribune reporter in Jerusalem until last weekend, when editors assigned two more correspondents to cover the growing Israeli assault on the PLO headquarters. She said the military activity had kept most civilians off the street and created an uneasiness that made finding stories more of a challenge. “It is always worse at the beginning of a conflict because no established lines have been set,” Spolar said. “There is also the suicide bombing factor. It is a lot to contend with.”

John Adkins, Tribune deputy foreign editor, said he had beefed up coverage as the fighting increased, but no additional safety measures or training had been instituted beyond the usual procedures for dangerous areas. “We check with each correspondent every day and reiterate that they don’t travel alone,” he said.

Other news organizations, from The Associated Press to The Washington Post, also are increasing coverage, with many keeping close watch on reporter safety in light of the recent death of an Italian photographer and last Sunday’s shooting of Anthony Shadid, a reporter for The Boston Globe, both in Ramallah. Globe Editor Martin Baron took the extraordinary step of flying to the Middle East to see Shadid last week.

Editors say they are in touch with reporters more often, several times a day in some cases, and have issued a blanket rule that no one should travel alone. “Nothing is a guarantee for safety,” said Tom Kent, AP deputy managing editor, who declined to say how many correspondents had been added to cover the situation in Israel. “Our staff is taking all the precautions they can. This is not new, although it is more intense than before.”

For Spolar, who previously worked for the Post and CBS News, the added danger does not mean the reporting stops. “You go out and cover it,” she said. “You’ve got to do it.”

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