For reporters and television crews who thought they had become accustomed to the specter of chance death or injury in the seven years of civil war in Lebanon, the Israeli invasion is a reminder that things can always get more dangerous.
The Israeli invasion has added intense air, sea or land bombardment to the ever present danger of bullets fired by trigger-happy members of one of 40-plus armed vigilante factions who roam the streets here day and night.
"The biggest problem here is that there is not just one front. There are fronts everywhere," remarked Alain Debos, a French camerman for a CBS team, who was injured June 4 when Israeli jets attacked the sports stadium of the capital, a suspected Palestinian munitions depot.
Referring to Beirut's multitude of armed factions who have divided up the streets in blocks like a checkerboard, Debos added, "The hysteria of people is the worst danger for us."
"This place is different. You cannot talk of Vietnam or Rhodesia," said Tom Spell of ABC, who was the last correspondent to leave Danang before it fell to the Vietcong and North Vietnamese in April 1975.
"It's not like most wars where you know who is shooting at you and who is the enemy," said Spell, 31. "It's the crazies behind you, the kids with the AK47s, that has always been the problem here ever since the 1975 civil war."
But the present combination of circumstances--the Israeli invasion, the existence of four armies (Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Israeli) cheek to jowl, tension among the various armed Lebanese factions faced with extinction--may be unique in the annals of war coverage.
Debos stood 50 yards from Jean Lugot, a cameraman for French television, who died in the stadium attack. Debos, a veteran of civil wars in Africa, found himself with burns on his side and arms caused by a bomb explosion. Time magazine photographer Barry Iverson received multiple breaks in one leg and shrapnel wounds across his body in that day's violence.
Aside from the dangers of random Israeli shelling and bombing of Beirut, the four armies inside Lebanon have rarely treated journalists badly by intention.
Unique again is a war where, in one morning, a reporter can cross from West Beirut, where the Palestinian guerrillas are based, through Syrian and Christian militia checkpoints to visit the Israeli-held areas and conduct interviews with Israeli soldiers and then return..
The various television crews do this four to six times each day just to reach the ground satellite station where their film is dispatched.
It is in the tiny mountain village of Aarbaniyah, to the east, which is more or less between Syrian and Israeli lines and under Syrian control.
An absence of censors does not mean that Western journalists are unhampered in reporting. In fact, working in Beirut, aside from the constant dangers, is far from easy because of the confusion, the multitude of voices and the absence of any organized distribution of news.
Press conferences are rare. The Lebanese government has not had a single one since the invasion began. The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Joint Forces, Palestinians and their Lebanese allies, have had a few in the lobby of the Commodore Hotel downtown.
Fierce competition has developed for the services of the few courageous taxi drivers who are willing to move out across the various war zones to see who is battling whom.
Taxi fees to the front lines range from $120 to $200 a trip for reporters and three to four times that much for TV teams.
The death of one driver, a Kurd, resulted in the four-man team of UPI and Independent Television News being kidnaped from the Commodore Hotel and held for a few hours until the team paid the driver's family $40,000.
At the end of the afternoon, reporters and television teams return to the Commodore, where they share accumulated information and stories of near scrapes with death. The bar is the most active in Beirut.
The evenings and nights--often past midnight--are spent in fighting over the four telex machines and two telephone lines to the outside world--usually, but not always, available at the Commodore.
Throughout the day, a half dozen Lebanese radio stations put out conflicting versions of what may be happening on the ground and inside the badly fragmented government.
The state-run Radio Lebanon is generally regarded as the most accurate, although the Christian-run Voice of Lebanon often is first with breaking news that, because of the station's deep political involvement, is treated with caution until confirmed by another source.
Western embassies, most now with only small staffs and preoccupied with survival, are not a major source of information, though there are a few diplomats who seem to remain extremely well-informed.
The biggest problem for gathering news comes at nightfall. Rare is the reporter willing to risk his money or life to go out and verify a report or visit a friend.
The remaining sources of news after dark are the radio stations and telephones, if they are working, which occasionally permit one to check out battle reports.