Reporters on the Job

DINNER BY GAS LIGHT: If one of the chief commanders of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance is expecting to launch an offensive to retake the capital, Kabul, anytime soon, he kept it close to his chest during a gas-lit dinner at the front line Wednesday (page 1). Monitor reporter Scott Peterson and two colleagues - who spent the night in the ruined air-control tower of the Bagram airbase to watch US bombing of Kabul 25 miles away - were fed a feast of spicy meat, rice, onions, tomatoes, watermelon, and green grapes.

Gaining overnight access is not so easy, but Scott had a secret weapon to convince doubters: At a critical juncture, he whipped out his laptop computer and showed the general a large, digital portrait of himself smiling and in uniform, taken during a visit the day before.

Sitting on cushions on the carpeted floor, with the food spread before them, the portly General Babajan was relaxed - listening from time to time to a Motorola walkie-talkie.

What about the pending offensive he was asked, as the scribes reached for their notebooks. "No, no, you are not journalists now," the general said and swept his arm expansively toward the meal.

security checks: When correspondent Dan Murphy arrived in the Philippines this week (page 7), he was surprised to be patted down and have to go through a metal detector every time he entered his hotel, the Mandarin. Located in the central business district, it is "ostensibly one of the safest places in town," Dan says. As he was being frisked, he asked a hotel guard, "So how long have you been doing this?"

"Since about 1985," came the reply.

"It crystallized for me," Dan says, "the fact that still, in many cities in the world, you are much more at risk from petty crime and easy access to guns than terrorism."

A DIFFERENT SORT OF PRESSURE: With tensions raised by the war in Afghanistan, an encounter between an American journalist and a Hamas leader could easily be loaded. But at a meeting in Gaza City's Beach Refugee Camp with correspondent Ben Lynfield, Ismail Abu Shanab proved to be an enthusiastic subject (this page).

There was only one tense moment: A blast resounded and he stopped talking and began inquiring about it. Israel has bombed and shelled the area and has assassinated several of Abu Shanab's colleagues. But this turned out to be only a sonic boom from an Israeli fighter. "They do this just to pressure us," Abu Shanab said.

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