Posts tagged “Middle East


Posted on February 8, 2012

“Not been to Palmyra?” said my friend with incredulity. “How long have you been coming to Syria?” I muttered something inaudible and left trying to hide my embarrassment. I had travelled all over this beautiful country but had never visited its most important historical site. With an empty weekend approaching, I had no excuse this time. Two days later, we leave the swarming suburbs of Damascus behind us and veer eastwards towards the Syrian Desert, a vast expanse of uninhabitable land. A road sign indicates Palmyra, Deir ez Zhor and Iraq and the landscape suddenly changes to scrubland and high plateaux. A vast limestone steppe stretches to the horizon. The road is remarkably quiet with only a few, heavily laden trucks heading for the…


Posted on February 8, 2012

I remember seeing my first gun battle. It was September 1979 and I was strolling through the streets of Beirut looking for somewhere to eat. Two cars collided. The occupants jumped out and started to argue. One produced a handgun, fired without warning and ducked down behind the bonnet of his car. The other opened his boot, pulled out a Kalashnikov and sprayed the other car’s windscreen with bullets. More cars arrived, gunmen emerged and a full-scale battle ensued. I remember everyone scattering and diving for cover but I just stood there transfixed. It was after all my first experience of war. Bullets ricocheted everywhere and the sound of police sirens echoed through the narrow streets. That’s when I saw the man beckoning me…

Return to Beirut

Posted on February 7, 2012

The last time that I had been to Beirut was in 1982 during the Israeli invasion. I had escaped the bombing and terrible destruction on a small yacht, the Sea Victory, sailing from Jounieh in Christian East Beirut to Larnaca in Cyprus. The boat had been packed to the gunnels with families escaping the carnage but our crossing had taken almost three days as we were constantly intercepted by Israeli warships that forced us back at gunpoint. At the point of desperation, we had secured safe passage through the American consulate. Returning in 2005 after over twenty years was extremely emotional and I have to admit to being very apprehensive. The assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Prime Minister, a few days earlier on…