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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 22:47 GMT
Living with risk in Gaza
Alan Johnston in Gaza (file picture)
Johnston has covered all the big Gaza stories in the past three years
Amid concern for the safety of missing correspondent Alan Johnston, the BBC News website's Martin Patience describes the dangers and difficulties his colleague has faced.

Working in Gaza is fraught with worries - and Alan Johnston would be the first to tell you so.

But as the BBC's correspondent in the city, Alan sees it as one of the most important stories in the world. He views Gaza - in some respects - as a microcosm of the wider Middle East.

Since he started the job, it's been big story after big story - the Israeli withdrawal from its settlements in the territory, Hamas' stunning election victory, the Israeli military assault last summer, and the Palestinian inter-factional conflict between Hamas and Fatah.

The work is constant and punishing, but Alan takes it all in his stride. His phone is always on and he'll file a radio despatch at any hour, day or night. He pores over the details and agonises over every sentence. His passion for journalism is unsurpassed.

Born in Tanzania, Alan was educated at Dundee University in Scotland.

He joined the BBC in 1991 and served as the corporation's correspondent in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and then in the Afghan capital, Kabul, when it was controlled by the Taleban.

Tense times

For the last three years, Alan has been the only foreign journalist from a major media organisation based in Gaza. At times, he spends months in the territory without leaving it.

In the last year, the atmosphere has been incredibly tense as the inter-factional violence raged between Hamas and Fatah.

Gun battles would erupt out of nowhere and the noise could keep you awake all night.

There has also been a spate of kidnappings targeting foreigners - although all have been released unharmed.

Alan often spoke to his colleagues about his fears of being abducted. He knew the risks and took precautions.

There are only a handful of foreigners - mostly aid workers - still living in the territory. Life revolves around office and apartment - it is simply too unsafe to go out at night. Social life is minimal.

But day after day, month after month, year after year, Alan has persisted in living in Gaza to cover Palestinian issues. He feels they are too important to go unreported.

And he will be furious now that he's become the story instead of the one writing it.




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