BBC News describes something it failed to report last week as ‘rare’

On the afternoon of August 2nd a report appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the superfluously punctuated headline “Israel ‘thwarts IS attack’ on Golan Heights“.

That unnecessary qualification continued in the report’s opening sentences: [emphasis added]

Israel says it has killed seven suspected Islamic State (IS) militants who it says had crossed inside Israeli lines on the Golan Heights.

The Israeli military said it launched an air strike near a ceasefire line separating Israeli and Syrian sides of a demilitarised zone.”

The BBC’s report also failed to give readers a clear picture of where the incident took place:

“Israel said the group was around 200m (656ft) from an Israeli fence in the zone, delineated by Israel and Syria in 1974.”

As Ynet and other local media outlets reported:

“The incident began around 10:30pm on Wednesday, when the terrorists were spotted around 200 meters from the border fence, just north of the Israel-Syria-Jordan border. […]

“Assad’s forces are currently in the final stages of recapturing of the Syrian Golan and are operating in the south of the Golan against ISIS-linked groups, and as a result of that we see ISIS fighters dispersed throughout the area near the border, as they flee the areas occupied by Assad,” IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said.”

BBC audiences were however given the impression that the fighting in the area is over:

“Syrian rebel fighters and government forces have clashed in the area, though President Bashar al-Assad has regained control of late.”

Readers of the BBC’s report were also told that:

“It is a rare attack by Israel on militants in the area, recently retaken by Syrian forces from IS and rebels.”

Israel of course responds to incidents that take place along that border and so the ‘rarity’ of Israeli actions depends on events initiated by others. The BBC itself reported an incident in November 2016 (albeit belatedly) when Israel responded to ISIS gunfire at a group of IDF soldiers.

The last of those ‘rare attacks’ took place nine days before this report was published, following a cross-border incident involving the same ISIS militia.

“Two rockets from Syria apparently landed in the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel Wednesday […]

 “We heard a whistling,” one local recalled. “And then a second whistling. And then we saw [one of the missiles] falling into the water, maybe 50 meters from the beach.”

The projectiles were believed to have been fired from the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights, where the regime of Bashar Assad has been completing its campaign against the last rebel villages remaining in the area.

Military sources said late Wednesday they inclined to believe that the projectiles were fired by Islamic State jihadists at Syrian regime forces […]

Incoming rocket sirens blared across the Israeli Golan Heights, sending residents of the area scrambling to bomb shelters.”

The IDF later targeted the ISIS rocket launcher.

“Israeli defense officials believe ISIS launched the grad rockets at Israel as a provocation, in an effort to make Israel attack the Syrian army in retaliation. These assessments are based on the fact Assad’s army was attacking ISIS from the north and east, and so any fire to the west would have to be intentional. “

Seeing as the BBC completely ignored that attack at the time it is perhaps unsurprising that it now classifies the latest Israeli response as “rare”.

The BBC’s report closes:

“The BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Tom Bateman, who is in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, says that despite the infiltration, Israel sees Iranian forces loyal to President Assad as the biggest threat from inside Syria.

Israel says it will not allow Iran – Israel’s arch-foe – to strengthen its military presence in Syria – something Israel considers a direct threat.

Although Israel is not directly involved in the Syrian conflict, it has increasingly carried air strikes against Iranian assets and military personnel in Syria.”

Bateman did not bother to clarify to readers why Israel should consider Iranian entrenchment in Syria “a direct threat” or that Israeli strikes in Syria have for the most part been directed at Iranian weapons transfers –in breach of UN Security Council resolution 1701 – to its proxy terrorist group Hizballah.  

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Amplification of Assad propaganda on BBC World Service radio

As documented here previously, after the IDF announced on July 22nd the completion of the overnight evacuation of hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ personnel and their families from southern Syria, through Israel and into Jordan, the BBC News website published two articles amplifying Syrian regime and Russian propaganda concerning that group.

BBC promotes what it described in April as ‘conspiracy theories’

BBC News website readers get yet another dose of Assad’s propaganda

Yet more amplification of that propaganda was seen in one version of an article on a different topic published two days later.

Similarly, listeners to the July 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce its lead item (from 00:01:01 here) as follows:

[emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “We begin though in Syria where the rescuers – or some of them at least – have been rescued. According to the Israeli and Jordanian authorities, an international operation has managed to evacuate hundreds of members of the volunteer civil defence force known as the White Helmets and some of their family members from the country. The White Helmets have become a familiar presence at the scene of attacks in Syria but the Assad government and its Russian allies have condemned them as terrorist sympathisers.”

Coomarasamy then went on to report that Western diplomats had been commenting on the rescue operation and read out a Tweet from the British foreign secretary, before introducing (at 01:57) journalist Paul Ronzheimer of ‘Bild’ who had witnessed and reported the event.

Following that conversation Coomarasamy introduced (at 06:30) the founder of the ‘White Helmets’, James Le Mesurier, who explained that the group’s members “are under extraordinary threat” because “they have been – and continue to be – witnesses to the regime and Russian atrocities on the ground”.

When Mr Le Mesurier mentioned “the evacuation of fighters in buses, including those terrorist organisations that the regime claims to be fighting”, Coomarasamy interrupted him (at 10:58):

Coomarasamy: “And of course…yeah and of course the regime would say that the ‘White Helmets’ are a front for some of those organisations.”

Mr Le Mesurier explained the different conspiracy theories promoted by the Assad regime and Syria.

Le Mesurier: “Inside Syria they very much push the narrative that the ‘White Helmets’ are a Western organisation, that they are a front for the intelligence services, to create divisions inside the country and to make life more difficult for them. And at the same time externally in Europe they push the narrative that the ‘White Helmets’ are Al Qaeda and are terrorists. And at the same time they say that the ‘White Helmets’ don’t exist, that all of the rescues are filmed and so on. This is clearly propaganda.”

Coomarasamy nevertheless persisted with his theme (11:51):

Coomarasamy: “But I wonder, does this operation – the fact that it was Western-led – will that not only add credence to some of the arguments that the Assad government tries to make about the ‘White Helmets’?”

The same story was also the lead item in the later edition of the same programme (from 00:00:57 here) and was introduced by Coomarasamy as follows:

Coomarasamy: “We begin though in Syria and a rare example of international cooperation successfully coming to the aid of people apparently under threat from the Assad government. They are people who are used to coming to the aid of others – members of the civil defence force known as the ‘White Helmets’: Western backed and Western trained volunteers who help civilians in rebel held areas. Well overnight more than 400 ‘White Helmets’ and members of their family were brought out of southern Syria in an Israeli-led operation.”

After listeners had heard a voiceover translation of a statement from the Israeli prime minister on the operation, Coomarasamy continued:

Coomarasamy: “The ‘White Helmets’ are viewed by Western governments as life-saving humanitarians but the Syrian authorities and their Russian allies insist that they are a front for terrorist groups.”

Listeners heard (from 02:10) an edited version of the previously aired interview with the ‘Bild’ journalist Paul Ronzheimer and (from 06:14) an edited version of the interview with ‘White Helmets’ founder James Le Mesurier. The editing included repetition of Coomarasamy’s prior amplification of Assad propaganda.

Coomarasamy: “And of course…yeah and of course the regime would say that the ‘White Helmets’ are a front for some of those organisations.”

Coomarasamy: “But I wonder, does this operation – the fact that it was Western-led – will that not only add credence to some of the arguments that the Assad government tries to make about the ‘White Helmets’?”

Although in the previous edition of the programme Le Mesurier had clarified that the operation was led by the UK, Canada and Germany and supported by the US, Israel and the UN, at 08:58, Coomarasamy next chose to focus on just one of those countries, posing the following bizarre question:

Coomarasamy: “So, what does Israel get out of its role in this rescue operation?”

Notably, the person brought in to answer that question – described by Coomarasamy as “Joshua Landis…a Syria expert who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma” – is renowned for his portrayals of the Assad regime as ‘the good guy’ in the enduring conflict (and before it) and has himself amplified propaganda pertaining to the ‘White Helmets’. It therefore came as little surprise to hear Landis – unhindered by Coomarasamy – promote some Assad-style propaganda in his own more subtle style.

Landis: “They’re doing a big favour for the United States and for the European powers in carrying out important humanitarian work and we’ve noticed that throughout the war, Israel has taken in a number of Syrian rebels as well as their family members and civilians who’ve been wounded, treated them in its hospitals, has tried to do humanitarian work in Syria. Of course Israel has been bombing Syria at the same time, attacking Iranian emplacements, Syrian emplacements, shooting down the odd Syrian plane. But for Israel this is about doing a good deed.”

Failing to clarify to audiences that Israeli strikes have targeted Iranian weapons transfers to the terror group Hizballah, Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “But as you allude to, it’s something that’s happening on Israel’s doorstep and is very much a military conflict that Israel is getting involved in as well.”

Landis: “Yes, Israel has increasingly become involved in the Syrian civil war. It has supported a number of rebel groups, helping to build a small buffer zone. That has collapsed now, so Israel is going back to dealing with the Assad government and particularly through the Russians and this means that the rebels are collapsing and some of them are seeking asylum, through Israel, to the West.”

Landis’ roundabout portrayal of the ‘White Helmets’ as “rebels…seeking asylum” unsurprisingly went completely unchallenged by Coomarasamy as did his false claims that Israel is “involved in the Syrian civil war” and “has supported a number of rebel groups”.

As we see, the UK’s publicly funded public service broadcaster continues to amplify conspiracy theories no different from those put out by the regime controlled news agencies of Syria and Russia.

Weekend long read

1) At the Gatestone Institute, Douglas Murray discusses “The Great British Foreign Office Fantasy“.

“According to the British Foreign Office, the Golan Heights are ‘occupied’. They have been ‘occupied’ – according to the logic of the UK Foreign Office – since 1967, when Israel took the land from the invading forces of Syria. Ever since then, the Israelis have had the benefit of this strategic position and the Syrian regime has not. This fact, half a century on, still strikes the British Foreign Office as regrettable, and a wrong to be righted in due course. […]

The ongoing madness of the British Foreign Office’s position has been highlighted in recent days thanks to a request which came from the British government, as well as the governments in other European capitals and in Washington. A request which also involved the Golan.”

2) The ITIC has updated its report on a study of Palestinian Authority school textbooks.

“An examination of the new textbooks issued by the PA shows they continue expressing, and in some instances by radicalizing, the same basic principles that appeared in previous textbooks: the delegitimizing of the State of Israel, demonizing the State of Israel, encouraging violence against it and an absence of education for peace. The books, which are strongly hostile to Israel and the Jewish people, are also used by UNRWA-run school, half of whose budget is devoted to education.”

3) The ITIC has also published a report on a ‘flotilla’ bound for the Gaza Strip and expected to arrive in the area next week.

“Three small boats of the flotilla to the Gaza Strip set sail on July 21 and 22, 2018, and are expected to arrive around the end of July. Before they left for the Gaza Strip they conducted a series of propaganda visits to various European ports. The flotilla’s objective is to help the Palestinian propaganda campaign that accompanies the “return marches” by raising awareness to the demand to lift the “siege” on the Gaza Strip. That is supposed lead to international solidarity with the Gazans while defaming Israel.

On July 16, 2018, four boats anchored in the port of Palermo, Sicily, and from there three of them set sail together for the Gaza Strip on July 21, 2018. The most prominent figure in organizing the flotilla is Zaher Birawi, a Palestinian anti-Israeli activist living in Britain, affiliated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Birawi has many years of experience in organizing flotillas and convoys to the Gaza Strip. His official title is “coordinator of the international committee for breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip.””

Readers may recall that Birawi is also linked to ‘Great Return March’ agitprop which has been staged along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel since late March. The ITIC has also published an update to that report with details of the identities of the flotilla’s participants, one of whom is the founder of ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) who has in the past been interviewed by the BBC.

4) At Tablet magazine, Tony Badran discusses “Putin’s New Rules for the Golan Heights“.

“Since the start of the offensive in southern Syria last month, there have been all kinds of optimistic takes on how Russia will agree to rein in the Iranians in Syria. But what Putin actually wants to do, his language suggests, is to establish Russia as the central interlocutor for everyone in the region. To that end, what could be better than the tried and true path of hosting talks between Israel and its adversaries in Syria?

Of course, the notion that Israel would restart talks about the Golan when the Iranians are entrenching themselves in Syria is laughable in the extreme—and the Russians clearly know this. Instead, they might start with technical talks, say, about how best to implement the Separation of Forces agreement, or about the modalities of the return of the Assad regime to the area. That, as Putin said, would be the first step.”

 

 

 

BBC News report on Syrian plane interception won’t say where it happened

Roughly an hour after the interception of a Syrian aircraft that had entered Israeli airspace on the afternoon of July 24th the BBC News website published a report initially headlined “Israel shoots down Syrian warplane”. The report was amended seven times over the next eight hours and now goes under the title “Israel shoots down Syrian fighter near Golan Heights” – with the reason for the confusing use of the word “near” unclear.

Version 8

Refraining from informing audiences exactly what had happened in the BBC’s own words, the report opened with a ‘he said-she said’ account which obviously did not contribute to audience understanding of the events.

“Israel says it has shot down a Syrian warplane which entered its airspace – a rare incident between the two foes.

Two surface-to-air missiles were fired at the Sukhoi fighter jet, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted.

According to Israeli reports, it happened over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The pilot’s fate is not clear.

Syrian news agency Sana said Israel had targeted the jet over Syrian airspace, but did not say whether it was hit.” [emphasis added]

With readers none the wiser where – and therefore why – the incident took place, the report continued:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that Syria had committed a “blatant violation” of a 1974 ceasefire agreement, which defines the lines of separation between the two sides’ forces on the Golan Heights.”

The UN witnessed 1974 ‘Separation of Forces Agreement Between Israel and Syria’ was also mentioned (though not by name) in a subsequently added insert of ‘analysis’ from BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman.

“Israel and Syria fought their last war 45 years ago and later agreed to separate their forces either side of a 50-mile-long buffer zone – a boundary that had remained Israel’s quietest since.”

Bateman did not clarify to readers that what he described as a “buffer zone” is actually a demilitarized zone or that the agreement states that “Air forces of the two sides will be permitted to operate up to their respective lines without interference from the other side” [emphasis added].

In addition to aiding BBC audiences to understand the story, that information may also have helped BBC Arabic’s Feras Kilani to avoid an embarrassing Tweet.

Amplifying the Assad regime’s baseless propaganda, Bateman also told readers that:

“…Syria will see the Sukhoi’s downing as proof of its belief that Israel has been prepared to help rebel groups to stop the government’s advances.”

In the fourth version of the article, BBC audiences found yet more promotion of Syrian regime propaganda highlighted in two previous reports.

“On Monday, the Syrian government condemned the evacuation by Israel over the weekend of the White Helmets civil defence group from a war zone in the south of the country.

Damascus described the move as a “criminal operation” by “Israel and its tools”.

Version 1

With much of this article based on IDF statements as well as local and agency news reports, it is notable that the BBC News website did not inform its readers that Israel had tried to contact the pilot or that due to the fighting in Syria close to the border, earlier in the day the IDF had put out warnings.

“The IDF said it had noticed increased air force activity in southwestern Syria, near the border, since the morning.

“We have issued numerous warnings through numerous channels and in various languages to make sure that no one on the other side violates Israeli airspace or threatens Israeli civilians or sovereignty,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.”

Obviously the basic task of any journalist reporting this story was to inform members of the public what happened and where. Rather than doing that, the BBC News website chose to present two conflicting versions of where the aircraft was located when it was intercepted and leave readers to decide which one they prefer to believe. Apparently the BBC is of the opinion that passes as journalism.

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BBC News website readers get yet another dose of Assad’s propaganda

As noted here previously, on the morning of July 22nd the BBC News website published a report about the evacuation of members of the ‘White Helmets’ and their families from Syria in which unfounded propaganda put out by the Assad regime, the Russian government and their sympathisers was amplified.

“In that report BBC audiences were told that:

“The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones.

They say they are non-partisan but supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, and his ally Russia, allege links to jihadist groups.”

And again, in a sub-section headed “Who are the White Helmets?”:

“Say they are neutral and have no political affiliation but have been accused of links to jihadist groups by the Syrian government and its Russian allies”

That propaganda has indeed been vigorously promoted by the Assad regime, Russia and their sympathisers. However, it has also been exposed and debunked – as the Guardian reported in December 2017.”

Apparently not content with that dose of unquestioning promotion of the propaganda of a brutal regime that has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of its own civilians, on the afternoon of July 23rd the BBC News website published a follow-up report currently titled “Syria White Helmets evacuation criticised by government” in which 30% of the word count was given over to further amplification of disinformation from the heart of the Assad regime.

“The Syrian government has condemned the evacuation over the weekend of the White Helmets civil defence group from a war zone in the south of the country.

Damascus described the move, carried out by Israel, as a “criminal operation” by “Israel and its tools”. […]

Responding to the move on Monday, Syria’s foreign ministry said that “words of condemnation are not enough to denounce this despicable act”.

It added that the White Helmets supported “terrorists” and that the world had been warned of the group’s “dangers”, according to Syria’s state news agency Sana.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s administration regards the White Helmets as agents of Western powers. His supporters, and his Russian allies, say the volunteers support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups. […]

But Syria’s government and its ally Russia have accused the group of links to jihadist groups.

President Assad said it used “humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement a certain agenda”.”

The article ‘balanced’ those claims with the following 34 words:

“But Mr Assad’s opponents see them as heroes for their rescue work in bombed, rebel-held cities.

The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones.”

Readers were not informed of the research – including by BBC Trending – which has shown how conspiracy theories concerning the ‘White Helmets’ have been spread.

Another notable aspect of the report was its knee-jerk use of the BBC’s favoured ‘Israel says’ formula:

“The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they were acting on a request from the US, the UK and other European nations.”

Seeing as by the time this article was published officials from the UK, the US, Canada and Germany had acknowledged their countries’ role in the operation’s organisation, the BBC’s use of the phrase “the Israel Defense Forces said” is obviously superfluous.

As we have had cause to note here all too often in the past, the BBC’s ‘public purposes’ oblige it to provide accurate and impartial “news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them”.

Members of the BBC’s funding public may well be asking themselves why – yet again – their public service broadcaster is generously amplifying conspiracy theories no different from those put out by the regime controlled news agencies of Syria and Russia.

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BBC promotes what it described in April as ‘conspiracy theories’

On the morning of July 22nd the IDF announced the completion of the overnight evacuation of 800 Syrian ‘White Helmets’ personnel and their families from southern Syria, through Israel and into Jordan.

“The evacuation took place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Golan Heights and where the civil defense team was trapped. […]

The evacuees arrived at the border with Israel, and the IDF opened the gates and let them through. Medical treatment was provided to those in need, and the evacuees were provided with food and water.

The humanitarian workers and their families then boarded a fleet of buses that was already waiting for them at the site. The army and police blocked roads in the area, allowing the convoy to pass unimpeded.”

After the story broke, the BBC News website quickly produced a report titled “Syria conflict: Israel evacuates ‘White Helmets’” which appeared on its main homepage as well as its ‘World’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

In that report BBC audiences were told that:

“The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones.

They say they are non-partisan but supporters of President Bashar al-Assad, and his ally Russia, allege links to jihadist groups.”

And again, in a sub-section headed “Who are the White Helmets?”:

“Say they are neutral and have no political affiliation but have been accused of links to jihadist groups by the Syrian government and its Russian allies”

That propaganda has indeed been vigorously promoted by the Assad regime, Russia and their sympathisers.  However, it has also been exposed and debunked – as the Guardian reported in December 2017.

“The campaign to discredit the White Helmets started at the same time as Russia staged a military intervention in Syria in September 2015, supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s army with airstrikes bombarding opposition-held areas. Almost immediately, Russian state media such as RT and Sputnik started falsely claiming that Isis was the only target and throwing doubt on the bombings of infrastructure and civilian sites.

The same propaganda machine scooped up fringe anti-American activists, bloggers and researchers who believe the White Helmets are terrorists, giving them a platform on state TV and amplifying their articles through social media.”

In April of this year BBC Trending produced a report titled “Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories” which includes a whole section on conspiracy theories relating to the ‘White Helmets’.

“The Sarah Abdallah account is, according to a recent study by the online research firm Graphika, one of the most influential social media accounts in the online conversation about Syria, and specifically in pushing misinformation about a 2017 chemical weapons attack and the Syria Civil Defence, whose rescue workers are widely known as the “White Helmets”. […]

Graphika found 20 million messages about the White Helmets, split between tweets in support and in opposition. Among the opponents, Kelly says, Sarah Abdallah was “by far the most influential”, followed by Vanessa Beeley.

The firm found that Sarah Abdallah’s account was primarily followed by a number of different interest clusters: supporters of pro-Palestinian causes, Russians and Russian allies, white nationalists and those from the extremist alt-right, conservative American Trump supporters, far-right groups in Europe and conspiracy theorists.

These groups were instrumental in making the hashtag #SyriaHoax trend after the chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017.”

Nevertheless, three months on BBC News is still amplifying the propaganda of the Syrian and Russian regimes concerning the ‘White Helmets’ – and that despite the corporation’s obligation to “provide accurate and impartial news…of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Judging by many of the replies to a Tweet relating to the story sent by the British Foreign Secretary, the BBC News website’s longstanding habit of promoting false balance in the name of ‘impartiality’ by repeatedly amplifying any and every propaganda put out by the Assad regime and its Russian ally is certainly not contributing to meeting that particular ‘public purpose’.

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Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer asks “Is southern Syria heading for ‘Lebanonization’? “.

“First of all, it is important to understand the nature and dimensions of the Iranian project in Syria.  Iran’s deep alliance with Assad’s Syria goes back to the first days of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to Hafez Assad’s support or Teheran in the Iran-Iraq War.  Over the last seven years of civil war, however, the nature of the relationship has changed.  Iranian provision of manpower and organization of paramilitary forces has been essential to the regime’s survival.  Teheran has invested upwards of $30 billion in Syria.  The IRGC has established bodies within the formal structures of the Syrian state (the National Defence Forces), recruited young Syrians into locally based IRGC-associated paramilitary groups, (Quwaat al-Ridha, 313 battalion), and of course brought its paramilitary proxies onto Syrian soil, along with IRGC personnel.

This is a major, far-reaching process, resembling in its key particulars parallel projects in Lebanon and Iraq.  The intention is to establish political-military structures which will serve to enable the projection of Iranian power over the long term.  The Iranian expertise in this area is without parallel in the region.  As a result of this approach, Teheran now dominates Lebanon and has the upper hand in Iraq.  Assad’s Syria, which has an openly dictatorial system, is a different political context to these, of course.  But the evidence suggests that the Iranians are digging in to stay.”

2) The ITIC reports on this year’s Hamas summer camps – a topic that has received less than one minute of BBC coverage throughout the past three and a half years.

“On July 14, 2018, the central committee of Hamas’ summer camps in the Gaza Strip held a press conference to announce the opening of its summer camps. The theme this year is “I am returning to my homeland,” inspired by the “return marches.” Aspects of the marches have been integrated into camp activities, including launching balloons, throwing stones, collecting tires and glorifying the shaheeds killed during the “marches.” In addition, as they do every year, campers undergo military training, in ITIC assessment with Hamas instructors (disassembling and reassembling weapons, simulating the abduction of Israelis, rifle practice, etc.) Pictures from the camps indicate that most of the military training is held in the classrooms and schoolyards of schools in the Gaza Strip.”

3) Writing at the Guardian, Dr Dave Rich discusses the UK Labour party’s ‘antisemitism code’.

“This week the Labour party achieved something remarkable, even unique, in the history of British anti-racism. They managed to get 68 rabbis from every religious stream in the country – Orthodox, Liberal, Reform and Masorti – to form a coalition to denounce antisemitism. These are religious leaders who normally agree on very little, some of whom would not even acknowledge each other as rabbis. But on this issue, they came together as one. The problem for Labour is that they did it to condemn the party’s handling of its own antisemitism problem under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.”

4) For years the BBC has uncritically amplified Iranian messaging on the subject of that country’s nuclear programme. A report by David E. Sanger and Ronen Bergman at the New York Times discusses what the BBC described as “political theatre” back in May.

“Last week, at the invitation of the Israeli government, three reporters, including one from The New York Times, were shown key documents from the trove. Many confirmed what inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, in report after report, had suspected: Despite Iranian insistence that its program was for peaceful purposes, the country had worked in the past to systematically assemble everything it needed to produce atomic weapons.

“It’s quite good,” Robert Kelley, a nuclear engineer and former inspector for the agency, said in Vienna, after being shown some of the fruits of the document theft. “The papers show these guys were working on nuclear bombs.””

BBC News cuts out the infiltration part of Syrian drone infiltration incident

On the afternoon of July 11th a Syrian drone infiltrated Israeli airspace.

“A Patriot missile was fired at a Syrian drone that infiltrated 10 kilometers into Israel on Wednesday afternoon, prompting a rocket-alert siren to go off in several communities in the Golan Heights. The IDF intercepted the drone over the Kinneret [Sea of Galilee]. […]

The IDF said that they tailed the drone for 15 minutes after it entered Israel from Syria. […]

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said that the drone was spotted before it entered the demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries.

“We spotted an unmanned aerial vehicle at around 3:20pm flying toward the buffer zone and we followed it. It was spotted before it crossed into the demilitarized zone,” he said.

“We carried out a number of activities to prevent friction and defense activities including calling four war planes and two combat helicopters and we prepared Patriot missile batteries. When we realized that there were optimal conditions, we intercepted the drone using one Patriot missile,” he continued.”

Several hours later, Israel responded with strikes on three Syrian military posts.

A BBC News website report titled “Syria war: Government attacks IS enclave in south-west” that was published some two and a half hours after the interception included a description of the incident in twenty-six words, none of which clarified that the drone had infiltrated 10 kms into Israel.

“On Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had launched a Patriot missile at a drone launched from Syria, setting off air defence sirens in Israeli communities.”

Readers were also told that:

“The Syrian army’s advance towards the occupied Golan Heights has also alarmed Israeli officials, who believe it may attempt to deploy soldiers along the frontier in defiance of a 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement that created a buffer zone patrolled by UN peacekeepers.”

The relevant fact that UNDOF forces redeployed to the Israeli side of the buffer zone four years ago and no longer carry out their designated mission with regard to Syrian forces was not clarified.

The article continued:

“Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, has deployed hundreds of troops to Syria, ostensibly as advisers to the government. Thousands of Shia militiamen armed, trained and financed by Iran have also been battling rebels alongside the Syrian army.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to stop what he considers Iranian “military entrenchment” in Syria and has ordered a number of air strikes on Iranian facilities.” [emphasis added]

BBC audiences were not informed that, according to pro-Assad sources, Hizballah is “helping to lead a Russian-backed offensive in southern Syria which has left over 250,000 people displaced” or that additional Iranian-handled Shia foreign militias are also taking part in that campaign. Neither were they told that last month Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) deputy commander Hossein Salami said

“Today an international Islamic army has been formed in Syria, and the voices of the Muslims are heard near the Golan… Orders are awaited, so that the custom of God vis-à-vis the eradication of the evil regime [Israel] will land and the life of this regime will be ended for good. The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now.” [emphasis added]

Apparently though the BBC is still quite happy for its audiences to go away with the impression that Iran’s military build-up in Syria is primarily an Israeli claim.   

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The omission in a BBC WS opinion piece based interview

On July 1st an opinion piece by former IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner was published in the Ha’aretz newspaper under the title “Should Israel Open Its Borders to Desperate Syrian Refugees?“.

On July 4th the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ conducted an interview with Peter Lerner based on that opinion piece and some of the points made in it were brought up while another – interestingly – was not.

Presenter James Menendez introduced the item (from 38:29 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menedez: “Syrian government troops and their militia have been closing in on rebels in Daraa province, prompting more than a quarter of a million people to flee their homes – that’s according to the UN. But there is nowhere for them to go: the Jordanian border is closed, so too the border with Israel across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A few days ago Israel’s hardline defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said on social media that while Israel was prepared to continue to offer humanitarian assistance to civilians, it wouldn’t accept any Syrian refugees. Well one man calling for a change in that policy is Peter Lerner – for many years a spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces. This is what he told me on the line from northern Israel, close to the Syrian border.”

In fact, what Lerner called for in his article was rather more nuanced than its presentation by Menendez suggests:

“While Lieberman’s zero refugee policy is morally questionable, the reasoning behind it may be reports in Israel last week citing intelligence sources suggesting Iran is trying to abuse operation Good Neighbor to infiltrate terrorists into Israel.

Israel should make exceptions to its ‘no entry’ policy for refugees, especially orphaned children who are in dire need.” [emphasis added]

In the ‘Newshour’ interview Lerner began by briefly outlining the medical assistance and humanitarian aid Israel has been supplying for the past five years before saying:

Lerner: “So I don’t think that Israel has officially stated that there’s a policy of not opening the border and I think that at the current situation we need to assess that policy and suggest perhaps more assistance, more help – perhaps to facilitate orphaned children that might need assistance and keep them out of harm’s way.”

In his article Lerner also brought up another possibility:

“But if Israel is unwilling to permit refugees to enter its territory, the government now needs to establish a safe zone on the eastern side of the border.

On the international front, the success of a safe zone for displaced Syrians will only be successful if it can truly be safe. Russia alone can secure the required assurances that Assad’s troops and its militias keep at a safe distance. The IDF will have to protect the people that flee to the sanctuary, supply food, shelter, sanitation and medical aid.”

In the radio interview he made a brief reference to that idea which was not picked up by Menendez.

Lerner: “I also think that on the other side of the border there needs to be an international effort to establish an area where people can come and gather…”

Menendez then asked:

Menendez: “In terms though of what Israel should do at the border – I mean does it mean opening the border to all those who may be asking for refugee status, all those who may need medical help?”

After Lerner had explained that the Syrians have for decades been “told that Israel is the arch-enemy” and cited “reports in the Israeli media that Iran was attempting to infiltrate terrorists on this platform”, Menendez jumped in:

Menendez: “Do you…just on that point, do you believe that intelligence assessment that Iran may try to use any greater access across the border to infiltrate people into Israel?”

Lerner: “Absolutely. […] Where there is a hole it is potentially and usually abused. Now the reality on the ground means that Israel needs to take that into consideration but I definitely think that there’s more room than a zero entrance policy. I’m not talking about a widespread opening but I think, you know, a bit more compassion towards people that are actually in dire need.”

Menendez apparently did not comprehend the points made by his interviewee.

Menendez: “What about taking in refugees on a formal basis? As we know, Syria’s other neighbours have taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees – why not Israel?”

Lerner once again explained that “Israel is officially in a state of conflict with Syria” and that no “friendly mechanisms” exist before going on:

Lerner: “But that’s exactly my point. I think that there is room for more compassion and not necessarily opening the border because Israel hasn’t got the means or the ability to accept tens of thousands of refugees…”

The interview ended soon after that with listeners hearing nothing at all about one of the other main points raised in Lerner’s article:

“Israel must also appeal to UNDOF (the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force), the UN peacekeeping force to review its mandate. UNDOF was established in 1974 to monitor and supervise the ceasefire between Israel and Syria that ended the Yom Kippur War. In the absurd reality of the Middle East, that is what they continue to do today. There are over 1000 deployed UN personnel that could immediately assist the people in need. However, since the Syrian civil war began, UNDOF has vacated most of its observer camps in the Syrian Golan Heights.”

Obviously listeners’ understanding of the story would have been enhanced had the fact that there are UN soldiers deployed in the vicinity of thousands of displaced Syrians been mentioned in this item. But for some reason the BBC chose to omit that information. 

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BBC News ignores Israeli aid to displaced Syrians

 

 

 

BBC News ignores Israeli aid to displaced Syrians

Those who read an article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” on the BBC News website on June 27th learned that:

“Up to 50,000 people have been displaced by the fighting in the past week. […]

The United Nations said the government’s artillery and air strikes had prompted between 45,000 and 50,000 people to flee their homes in Deraa province and head towards Jordan and the Golan Heights.

It warned that the displaced population was in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and that southern border communities would soon be overwhelmed because Jordan had said it would not allow in any more refugees.” [emphasis added]

Readers of another article on the same topic that was published on the afternoon of June 28th under the headline “Syria war: Air strike on Deraa shelter kills 17 civilians” were told that:

“UN officials said on Tuesday that between 45,000 and 50,000 people had fled their homes in Deraa province and head towards Jordan or the Golan Heights. They warned southern border communities would soon be overwhelmed because Jordan had said it would not allow in any more refugees.”

photo credit: IDF

On the morning of June 29th it was announced that the Israeli army had delivered tons of humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians during the night.

“The IDF delivered about 60 tons of humanitarian aid to the Syrian Golan Heights on Thursday night after some 120,000 fled the southwestern part of the country in the wake of the Syrian army’s onslaught in the area.

During the special overnight operation, some 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby food, three pallets of medical equipment and medicine and some 30 tons of clothes and shoes were transferred into Syria from four different spots on the border.

The aid was transferred to Syrian refugee camps in the southern and central parts of the Syrian Golan. The camps, located near the border with Israel, house several thousands of Syrians under poor conditions with no access to water, electricity, food or other basic necessities.”

Despite having reported the UN’s call for humanitarian assistance the BBC News website did not produce a new report or even update its June 28th article to inform audiences of the Israeli delivery of aid to displaced Syrians.

Update:

Later versions of an article published on the BBC News website on July 2nd (three days after the aid had been delivered) under the headline “Syria war: 270,000 displaced by fighting in south-west” inform readers that: