Reporter's Notebook: Two months in hell; covering the Mideast maelstrom

The war began with the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 in Israel, and saw 240 taken hostage. The fighting continues after a brief cease-fire.

Reporter's Notebook: Two months in hell; covering the Mideast maelstrom

TEL AVIV – The coming week marks two months since the horrible Hamas terror attack on Israel that left 1,200 dead and 240 held hostage. 

And it also marks our second trip to the region during this crisis. 

Some things have gotten a bit better. There were over a hundred hostages freed and some relief aid made it to the battered people of Gaza during the brief cease-fire in fighting. 

But to a large degree, things have gotten worse and more complicated.

When we were first in Israel in October, just two days after the attacks, the country was in a state of shock and frenzy.

One man we spoke with in Sderot couldn’t believe Hamas had turned his police station into a terror hideout.

A young Israeli American man in Ashkelon told us his 64-year-old father got nabbed by terrorists while he was simply surf-casting on a beach. 

And near Ashdod, a funeral for a young lady killed at that targeted music festival was thronged. Her mother, wracked with grief, still wanted to speak to us about her innocent little girl.

As the weeks went on, Israel’s military response ramped up. We watched as tanks rolled by. Heard the artillery fire. And tracked Israeli air force planes streaking to their Hamas targets in Gaza. 

All the while, we kept an eye on a slow-moving and potentially dangerous offensive between Israel and Hezbollah in northern Israel.

After a short break at home, including a New York area Thanksgiving with my extended family, all peppering me with questions about the war, we were back on the scene.

We landed in the middle of the temporary cease-fire between the warring Israeli and Hamas parties to allow the exchange of hostages and Palestinian prisoners. Nerve-racking nights before the releases. Scenes of joyous family reunions. And horror tales of captivity.

We heard from people in Tel Aviv in a place called Hostage Square, where remembrance displays have been set up.

"I cry every night," one woman told us.

"They are like family," another said, referring to the hostages.

It was pressure from people like these that got the Israeli government to push for the releases.

And pressure from the international community for Israel to allow more aid in to Gaza and give the beleaguered citizens there some respite.

But now all bets are off. The cease-fire broke down. Hostage releases have halted. And the war is back on.

In just the few days we first spent near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel we witnessed hellish warfare. Ground-shaking blasts of Israeli strikes. Huge plumes of smoke blown up into the air. Tracer fire, flares and Hamas rockets streaking through the night. Extended small arms exchanges

We speak with folks here whenever we can. Trying to get an inkling of what might be next. And what reasonable way there could be out of this ugly maelstrom.

No one has a clear answer.

The general consensus is for Israel to get the hostages out and then deal with the Hamas terror.

I’ve covered the Mideast for 25 years and I’ve never seen a crisis so complex, so full of ugliness all around, and so little clarity about a path forward.

The scale of this crisis was confirmed in what one woman told us. She noted the Holocaust, of course, was the worst for her people and the world. But these last few weeks, she said, have been right up there.

She shuddered. We all do.