BBC reporting on the use of ambulances by terrorists in Iraq and Gaza

On November 6th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Iraq suicide attacks: Ambulances used in Tikrit and Samarra“.ambulances-iraq-art

“Suicide bombers have used explosives-laden ambulances to kill at least 21 people and wound many others in the Iraqi cities of Tikrit and Samarra.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) group said it had carried out both attacks. […]

The deadliest of Sunday’s blasts happened in Tikrit, some 200km (123 miles) south of Mosul.

A suicide bomber drove a booby-trapped ambulance into a line of vehicles queuing at a checkpoint at the southern entrance to the city, once the hometown of executed former leader Saddam Hussein. […]

In Samarra, further south, another ambulance was detonated in a car park for the al-Askari mosque – one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam. Iranian pilgrims were among the dead.”

During the 2014 conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations based in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ use of ambulances to transport armed terror operatives (a practice also seen in previous conflicts in Gaza and during the second Intifada) was documented on several occasions.

While the BBC refrained from informing its audiences of those cases (and others) of abuse of medical facilities, it did find it appropriate to repeatedly amplify falsehoods from a political NGO involved at the time in the ‘lawfare’ campaign against Israel and from a representative of one of the organisations operating ambulances in the Gaza Strip – the PRCS – see for example here, here and here.

“On Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International called for an investigation into what it said was mounting evidence that Israeli forces had deliberately attacked hospitals and health professionals in Gaza. The attacks have left at least six medics dead.

“Our ambulances are often targeted although they are clearly marked and display all signs that they are ambulances,” said Dr Bashar Murad, director of Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s (PRCS) emergency and ambulance unit, which lost at least two members of staff.

“The army should be able to distinguish from the air that what they are targeting are ambulances.”

Amnesty International said attacks on health facilities and professionals were prohibited by international law and amounted to war crimes.”

The abuse of medical facilities protected by international conventions during conflict is obviously an issue of interest to international journalists. However, as we see from the examples above, the BBC’s reporting of such abuses lacks consistency.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC reporting on human shields in Gaza and Iraq

Comparing BBC reporting on ISIS and Hamas tunnels

Organisation quoted by BBC hosts terror glorification event

Regular readers of BBC News reports concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will not infrequently come across information sourced from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s Ramallah and Gaza branches. For example:PRCS

“There were clashes in several places in the occupied West Bank, with the Red Crescent saying seven Palestinians suffered injuries from live fire”.

And:

“Scores of Palestinians were wounded in the violence across the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.”

As readers may recall, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society was one of the sources relied upon by UNOCHA for the compilation of casualty figures and civilian/combatant ratios in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas. Those highly dubious figures were unquestioningly quoted, promoted – and defended – by the BBC during and after the conflict without any independent verification having been carried out.

During that same conflict the BBC also amplified claims made by a representative of the Palestinian Red Crescent without providing audiences with any evidence of its having independently confirmed the allegations described in the article as amounting to war crimes.

“”Our ambulances are often targeted although they are clearly marked and display all signs that they are ambulances,” said Dr Bashar Murad, director of Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s (PRCS) emergency and ambulance unit, which lost at least two members of staff.”

Audiences were not however informed of documented cases of the use of PRCS ambulances for the purposes of terrorism.

PMW reports that earlier this month the Palestinian Red Crescent Society headquarters in Ramallah hosted an event organized by Fatah to mark the anniversary of a terror attack in which thirty-seven civilians (including 12 children) were murdered and over seventy wounded.

“Every year the Palestinian Authority and Fatah celebrate the anniversary of the most lethal terror attack in Israel’s history by honoring the female terrorist Dalal Mughrabi who led it. This year, one such celebration was hosted by the office of the Palestinian Red Crescent, which is under the International Red Cross.”

The BBC, however, continues to promote information sourced from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society as though it were an impartial source. 

The BBC’s unhealthy reliance on information from medics in Gaza

A BBC Watch reader recently wrote to us concerning a reply he had received from the BBC to a complaint made several months ago. Among the issues he had raised was this:

“The referenced article states “Two Palestinian children have been injured by Israeli air strikes”. Can you confirm if this is based on information from Hamas, or was this independently substantiated by the BBC?”

The response he received was as follows:

“Our story clearly attributes the information to “Palestinian medics”. These are usually doctors, ambulance workers or paramedics. When Hamas officials provide information, we say so.”

That response suggests that the BBC considers “Palestinian medics” of all descriptions to be an impartial source of information on the subject of casualties and the causes of their injuries.

But is that in fact the case?

The Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip is of course run by Hamas, with the present Minister being Mufeed Mukhallalati – former dean of the college of medicine at the Islamic University. The Ministry runs a number of hospitals in the Gaza Strip (additional facilities are managed by NGOs or private organisations) with the most well-known being Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. 

Health care facilities Gaza Strip

According to a WHO report produced after the November 2012 hostilities, the vast majority of injuries were dealt with in Ministry of Health (i.e. Hamas-run) hospitals and the Ministry’s command and control centre was situated in Shifa Hospital, which was of course the main hide-out for Hamas leaders during Operation Cast Lead – turning staff and patients into human shields. 

As of January 2012, the Ministry of Health operated 56 ambulances and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society operated 40 ambulances in the Gaza Strip. In other words, over half the ambulance workers and paramedics from whom the BBC may get casualty figures or details of circumstances of injuries are Hamas employees. 

During Operation Cast Lead and throughout the second Intifada, PRCS ambulances were used to transport terror operatives and weapons.  

The spokesman for the Ministry of Health, Dr Ashraf al Qidwa, has been known to claim that terrorists were civilian casualties and ‘Palestinian medical sources’ are not averse to contorting stories for the sake of anti-Israel propaganda.  

One representative of the Ambulance and Emergency Services in the Gaza Strip is named Adham Abu Silmaya (aka Adham Abu Salima). Abu Silmaya has quite a history of feeding bogus stories to journalists, including an incident in March 2012 in which he claimed that a 15 year-old youth named Nayif Qarmout had been killed by an Israeli air-strike when no such strike had taken place. 

“A drone strike hit a group of students who were walking by empty land on their way to school,” said spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya, describing an incident which occurred at around 9:30am (0730 GMT).

In June 2012 Abu Silmaya was the source of a claim that a toddler named Hadeel Haddad had been killed by an Israeli air-strike. Although the little girl had in fact died as a result of a mis-fired terrorist rocket, the false story gained considerable exposure – not least because it had been Tweeted by the trusted BBC and a later retraction was largely ignored. 

Hadeel Haddad

Just recently, Rushdi  Abualouf from the BBC’s Gaza office relied on information from anonymous “doctors” when he Tweeted the following:

tweet Rushdi

However, there is another version to the story:

“Two Palestinian men were wounded by Israeli fire in the central Gaza Strip late Sunday, a Gaza health official said.

The Israel Defense Forces reports it is unaware of any Palestinians wounded from IDF fire. However it confirms shots were fired at the Gaza border around 9:00 p.m. Sunday, after Palestinians approached the fence, but reported the shots were fired in the air.

Health official Ashraf al-Kidra, said Israeli forces fired at the men east of Deir al-Balah late Sunday. Their identities were unclear.

The official initially said the men had been killed, but he said that the two were found to be seriously wounded.”

In other words, clearly an announcement had been put out before ‘medical sources’ had even examined the wounded men. 

It is unacceptable that a complaint from a BBC audience member should be dismissed on the grounds that the information provided came from “Palestinian medics” when members of that group – often employed by Hamas – have been known to exploit deaths and injuries for the sake of propaganda.

The BBC needs to acknowledge the fact that information from such sources cannot automatically be classed as reliable and that independent verification is imperative for the health of the BBC’s reputation as an accurate and impartial source.