BBC News’ bizarre ‘Newsbeat’ backgrounder on Syria

An article which appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 5th was billed as follows:


The link leads to a backgrounder produced by BBC News for ‘Newsbeat‘ – and hence specifically tailored for younger audiences – which is titled “How the history books will remember Syria in 2016“.

The backgrounder – headed “Newsbeat Explains” – may well raise eyebrows both for what it does tell those ‘younger audiences’ and what it does not. No mention is made, for example, of the fact that the vast majority of casualties in the Syrian civil war have died at the hands of the Syrian regime or of issues such as the barrel bombs, the use of chemical weapons against civilians or the siege and starvation policy employed by Bashar al Assad. Apparently ‘Newsbeat’ does not consider those points worthy of the history books: a section headed “It’s hard to know exactly how many people have been killed in Syria” does not even try to inform audiences about such issues.


Readers are told that the root of the conflict in Syria goes back to “March 2003 when Britain and America and other countries decided to invade Iraq” and that the ‘Arab Spring’ can be attributed to the “economic crash of 2007/08”. The oppressive nature of the Syrian regime pre-March 2011 is severely whitewashed.


In a section concerning Syrian refugees audiences are told that Britain is characterised by “endemic racism” and in a section about the “international players” in Syria, readers are bizarrely informed that:


It is of course remarkable that the dubious notion that “Israeli security” is a prime factor behind US intervention in Syria (such as it is) was included in this BBC backgrounder without any concrete evidence being provided to back up that statement. Given that the information comes from an academic – Tim Jacoby – with a record of supporting anti-Israel boycotts and delegitimisation, the BBC’s amplification of that entirely unsupported claim obviously requires explanation.


Weekend long read

1) At the Tablet, Tony Badran asks “why hasn’t the [US] administration done anything about Syria, and won’t?”.  

“Recently, portions of the strategic-communications façade erected by the administration have started to crumble, allowing interested analysts and members of the public to see the administration’s actual policy more clearly. In a recent interview, Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon revealed that in 2013, Iran told President Obama that if he were to strike the regime of Bashar Assad following the latter’s chemical-weapons attack, the Iranians would collapse the talks over their nuclear program. Obama canceled the strike, of course, and later reassured Iran that the United States would not touch Assad. Solomon’s reporting confirms a critical fact about Obama’s Iran and Syria policies: They are one and the same. Or, stated differently, Syria is part of the price for the president’s deal with Iran.”

2) The Times of Israel has an interesting interview with Professor Monika Schwarz-Friesel on the topic of antisemitism on the internet and in European discourse.Weekend Read

“A psychologist, linguist and professor of cognitive science at the Technical University of Berlin, Schwarz-Friesel is one of the most quoted experts on anti-Semitism in both international academic literature and the German media.

In her numerous publications she analyzes and exposes new manifestations of old anti-Semitic sentiments — disguised though they might be — employing much of the same Jew-hatred that has been shaping European discourse throughout the years, even when officially outlawed.

These analyses are evidence that recent anti-Israeli tropes demonizing the Jewish state are actually work-arounds of old anti-Semitic sentiments that have been with us for two millennia.”

3) The CST has produced a handy guide to definitions of antisemitism currently in use.

4) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks gave an address titled “The Mutating Virus: Understanding Antisemitism” at a conference at the European Parliament last month.  

“Antisemitism is not about Jews. It is about anti-Semites. It is about people who cannot accept responsibility for their own failures and have instead to blame someone else. Historically, if you were a Christian at the time of the Crusades, or a German after the First World War, and saw that the world hadn’t turned out the way you believed it would, you blamed the Jews. That is what is happening today. And I cannot begin to say how dangerous it is. Not just to Jews but to everyone who values freedom, compassion and humanity.”

5) Adam Bienkov reports on the Momentum view of the British media – including the BBC.

“There must be a “socialist” solution to media ownership in the UK, Unite’s chief of staff insisted last night.

Speaking at a Momentum meeting on “Jeremy Corbyn and media bias,” Andrew Murray said there had to be a “change in ownership” away from the “tax exiles and ne’er-do-wells” who currently own most newspapers and broadcast media. […]

He added that any socialist solution to media bias against Corbyn must include the BBC.

“[There is] a narrow clique at the top of the BBC increasingly controlled and appointed by government,” which needed to be removed, he insisted.

Murray singled out the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg for criticism.” […]

A representative from the Corbyn-supporting ‘Media Response Unit’ called for Momentum to engage in mass complaints against the broadcaster.

“We’re building an army at Momentum so let’s use it,” he told the meeting. 



BBC’s news from southern Syria front: for Arabic speakers only

With the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen on the ground in northern Syria, audience attentions have been focused on that region where, according to the corporation’s reports, the ceasefire which came into effect on the evening of September 12th is “largely holding“. However, another front is currently rather less quiet.

Throughout the past week or so, multiple incidents of mortar fire from Syria into the Israeli Golan have taken place – attributed to spill-over from the heavy fighting between opposition groups and regime forces and their supporters near the border which continued under the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

On September 13th, after Israel responded to one of the incidents of cross-border mortar fire, the Syrian regime claimed to have shot down two Israeli aircraft. That claim was swiftly refuted by the IDF.

“The statement from the Syrian army said one aircraft was downed over the skies of the Syrian town of Quneitra, near the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, and the other, a drone, was shot down closer to Damascus.

“Our air defenses blocked the attack and shot down the military aircraft in (the southern province of) Quneitra and a drone west of Sa’sa” in the province of Damascus, said the statement carried by state news agency SANA.

The alleged achievement was highlighted widely in Syrian state media.

The IDF in a statement confirmed it had been shot at, but said aircraft used to target Syrian positions overnight were

“Two surface-to-air missiles were launched from Syria after the mission overnight to target Syrian artillery positions,” an IDF statement said. “At no point was the safety of IDF aircraft compromised.””

Once again, the degree of reliability of information put out by the Syrian regime – which the BBC has in the past unquestioningly amplified and promoted – is glaringly apparent.

The Syrian regime’s claim was the subject of a report – “Syria says it shot down an Israeli airliner and Israel denies” – which appeared on the BBC Arabic website on September 13th. The BBC’s English-speaking audiences, however, have not been informed of that incident or the recent tension-raising uptick in cross-border mortar fire from Syria into Israel.

Multi-platform BBC promotion of Syrian regime falsehood concerning Israel

An interview with the Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen appeared on several BBC platforms on September 7th.

An audio version of the interview was heard by listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Newsroom’.mekdad-the-newsroom

A filmed version of the interview was shown on BBC News television programmes and posted on the BBC News website.

The same filmed clip was also embedded into an article titled “Syria conflict: Opposition unveils transition plan” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

In all versions of that interview – which was slightly edited on the different platforms – BBC audiences heard barely challenged denials from Faisal Mekdad with regard to the Syrian regime’s use of barrel bombs against the civilian population and the fact that most of the civilian casualties of the civil war have been caused by Assad’s forces and supporters.

Audiences also heard the following falsehood go completely unchallenged by the man whose job ostensibly includes the provision of “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.mekdad-filmed

“This is a war against Syria. This is war from, I mean, the most horrible…ah…I mean, forces in the entire world. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are giving money. Turkey is using its army. The United States and Western Europe – and particularly France and UK – are doing, I mean, whatever they can do to end the role being played by Syria. Israel is there in the middle of the conflict.” [emphasis added]

As any Middle East reporter worth his salt of course knows, Israel is not involved in the Syrian civil war and it is certainly not the cause of that conflict. Jeremy Bowen however did not bother to relieve BBC audiences of the inaccurate impression promoted by his interviewee and instead went straight on to his next question.

Not for the first time – see ‘related articles’ below – Jeremy Bowen’s reporting on Syria actively hinders the meeting of his employer’s obligation to “build a global understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen provides a stage for Syrian propaganda

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum

BBC does damage control after Bowen’s Assad advocacy


BBC News passes up on an unusual Middle East story

Eighteen months have passed since the BBC last reported on the topic of the sick and wounded Syrians receiving medical care in Israel and so its audiences may not be aware of the fact that the provision of that humanitarian aid continues.

One of the patients arriving at the border earlier this year presented a particular challenge to the medical teams.

“The girl arrived at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa in recent weeks with very serious wounds that she received after finding herself caught in a firefight between rival militias […]

Some two weeks after she arrived at the hospital, after her wounds had nearly healed, Rambam doctors discovered the young girl had cancer.

They refused to release her, insisting that they could not let her cancer go untreated. […]

And so a search began for a bone marrow donor, a search that led to a relative living in a Middle Eastern country designated an “enemy state” under Israeli law, a designation that prevented the relative from entering Israel.

It was at this point that Israel’s security services stepped in, mounting a secret operation in the enemy country that helped smuggle the relative out of that country and into Israel.”


Photo credit: Rambam hospital

The treatment was successful and this week the little girl was discharged from hospital.

“Rambam Health Care Campus has treated 140 Syrian civilians, men, women and children over the past three years. However, the departure, yesterday, of a six-year-old girl, “B”, was especially emotional for everyone.  Wearing a white dress, white shoes, and a little silver crown, “B” was the guest of honor at a farewell party held by an entire department, where Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze stood together with tears in their eyes, surrounding her with love and concern for the future that awaits her. […]

After all the parting messages, some of which were painstakingly read in Arabic by Jewish doctors and nurses, the mother asked to read her own thank you wishes. In a small voice, she said “I would lie if I said that I expected the kind of humanity I discovered here. I am grateful for your care and sensitivity; may God protect you. And we will always remember what you did for us.””

To date, BBC audiences have not been told this unusual story.

Weekend long read

1) With the British government having this week announced that it will not fund ‘World Vision International’ until its investigation into alleged diversion of funds to Hamas is complete, readers may find a background article on the organisation by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile useful. “Five Things You Need to Know About World Vision” is available here.Weekend Read

2) An interesting post about the Israeli perspective of the civil war in Syria is found at the IDF blog.

“In 2011, the population of the Syrian Golan numbered 1.2 million. The Syrian side of the border was fully functional with its farms, UN bases, towns and forests. […]

As of 2016, the population of the Syrian Golan is a mere 750,000 – 63% of its pre-war residents. 50,000 Syrians from the Golan alone have been killed, and the rest have fled inland or to other countries. Those who remain live in dire circumstances. Because of the fighting, they have little access to medical care, public works, food, and other basic necessities.”

3) Following on from this week’s rare BBC coverage of an internal Palestinian story, Khaled Abu Toameh provides some related background and context.

“Palestinians refer to Nablus as the “Mountain of Fire” — a reference to the countless armed attacks carried out against Israelis by residents of the city since 1967. Current events in Nablus, however, have shown how easily fire burns the arsonist. The Palestinian Authority is now paying the price for harboring, funding and inciting gang members and militiamen who until recently were hailed by many Palestinians as “heroes” and “resistance fighters.” Unsurprisingly, most of these “outlaws” and “criminals” (as the PA describes them) are affiliated in one way or another with Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction.

Nablus, the so-called Mountain of Fire, is now threatening to turn into a volcano that is set to erupt in the face of Abbas and his PA government.”

Read the whole article at the Gatestone Institute.

4) Matthew Levitt has written a very interesting essay titled “Hezbollah’s Pivot Toward the Gulf”.

“Hezbollah’s status in the wider Sunni Arab world has dropped precipitously since its height a decade ago after the 2006 Lebanon War. In the wake of that conflict, Hezbollah rode a wave of popular support across the region. A decade later, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has labeled Hezbollah a terrorist group and the Gulf States have cracked down on Hezbollah supporters and financiers within their borders. The Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have issued statements condemning Hezbollah as well, leading to a war of words between the group and Gulf officials. In January 2016, the Saudi government released a report on Iranian-sponsored terrorism that focused heavily on Hezbollah, spanning the group’s militant activities from the 1980s to the present.

But increasingly tense relations—and the larger regional context of a proxy war between Iran, Hezbollah’s patron and sponsor, and the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia—may now be moving this schism from words to actions, threatening more overt violence between Hezbollah and its Shi`a allies and the Gulf States and their Sunni partners.”

Read the whole essay here.


Reviewing BBC reporting of Hizballah’s violations of UNSC Resolution 1701

On August 12th 2006 the BBC News website reported that:

“The UN Security Council has unanimously approved a new resolution calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Resolution 1701 calls for “a full cessation of hostilities”, and UN and Lebanese troops to replace Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.”

BBC audiences were also provided with the text of that UNSC resolution which of course includes the following:1701 text art

“Emphasises the importance of the extension of the control of the government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory in accordance with the provisions of resolution 1559 (2004) and resolution 1680 (2006), and of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, for it to exercise its full sovereignty, so that there will be no weapons without the consent of the government of Lebanon and no authority other than that of the government of Lebanon;”

The resolution calls for:

  • “security arrangements to prevent the resumption of hostilities, including the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani river of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL as authorized in paragraph 11, deployed in this area;
  • full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, and of resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006), that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of 27 July 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese State;
  • no foreign forces in Lebanon without the consent of its Government;
  • no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government;”

The same resolution expanded the mandate and capabilities of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon and charged it, inter alia, with aiding the Lebanese government to prevent Hizballah’s rearmament.

While that UNSC resolution brought an end to the 2006 war, it has obviously failed to achieve its long-term goal of avoiding the next round of conflict by preventing Hizballah’s rearmament and entrenchment in southern Lebanon.

The BBC’s public purpose remit commits it to keeping its funding public “in touch with what is going on in the world” and to building “a global understanding of international issues” and so it would be reasonable to assume that audiences have been kept up to date on the issues pertaining to implementation of Resolution 1701 throughout the decade since it was adopted – but is that the case?

The ‘timeline’ in the BBC’s online profile of Lebanon (last updated in August 2016) makes no mention at all of the existence of UNSC Resolution 1701.

“2006 July-August – Israel attacks after Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and the damage to civilian infrastructure wide-ranging in 34-day war. UN peacekeeping force deploys along the southern border, followed by Lebanese army troops for first time in decades.”

The profile itself includes a generalised reference to the disarming of militias without specifically recalling Resolution 1701 and without clarifying the current status of that ‘demand’. 

“The UN has demanded the dismantling of all armed groups in Lebanon, including Palestinian militias and the military wing of Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon.”

The BBC’s current profile of Hizballah (last updated in March 2016) tells audiences that:

“After Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah resisted pressure to disarm and continued to strengthen its military wing, the Islamic Resistance. In some ways, its capabilities now exceed those of the Lebanese army, its considerable firepower used against Israel in the 2006 war.”


“Hezbollah survived the [2006] war and emerged emboldened. Although it is has since upgraded and expanded its arsenal and recruited scores of new fighters, there has been no major flare-up along the border area, which is now patrolled by UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese army.”

No mention is made of Resolution 1701 and the obligation to disarm the terrorist organisation, prevent its rearmament and remove it from southern Lebanon in either of those profiles currently appearing on the BBC News website.

Immediately after the 2006 war, the BBC was able to tell its audiences that:

“UN Security Council resolutions call for armed militia groups like Hezbollah to disarm.” 

Nearly a year after the adoption of Resolution 1701, the BBC sent Martin Asser to southern Lebanon to ‘examine UNIFIL’s performance’. The caption to the main photograph illustrating his article informed audiences that “Unifil troops are meant to prevent Hezbollah bearing arms”.1701 Asser art

“After the July 2006 war, the [UNIFIL] force received new orders and thousands of reinforcements under the ceasefire resolution 1701, which also stipulated the deployment of the Lebanese army in the area.

Previously the area had become the fiefdom of Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist and militant movement whose cross-border raid on 12 July – snatching two Israeli soldiers – was the catalyst for the 34-day conflict.

The post-conflict objective was for Unifil to help the Lebanese government extend its sovereignty to the southern frontier, so Hezbollah’s armed wing would no longer be free to menace nearby Israeli towns or troops patrolling the border.”

Asser added:

“Hezbollah fighters are masters of concealment and guerrilla warfare – their weapons were never on show before the war, so they are unlikely to be caught red-handed by Unifil or Lebanese troops now.”

An old profile of Hizballah from 2010 states:

“Despite two UN resolutions (1559 passed in 2004, and 1701, which halted the war) calling for disarming of militias in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s military arm remains intact.”

In 2013 BBC audiences were told by the corporation’s man in Beirut, Jim Muir, that “Hezbollah has scrupulously observed the ceasefire that ended hostilities in 2006”. In 2015 Orla Guerin reported from south Lebanon but failed to use the opportunity provided by a rare BBC visit to that area to inform audiences of Hizballah’s use of civilian villages to store weapons and as sites from which to launch attacks against Israel.

The BBC has also consistently avoided or downplayed the topic of Iranian breaches of UNSC Resolution 1701 in the form of its transfer of arms to Hizballah. In 2013 BBC audiences heard Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen playing dumb (and some Hizballah spin) on the issue of Syrian transfers of weapons to the terrorist organisation. 

Already in 2007 – just over a year after the war and the resolution which brought it to an end – the UN admitted that Hizballah had “rebuilt and even increased its military capacity” and since then its weapons stocks have vastly increased and diversified. The BBC is of course aware of that fact – as indicated in an article by BBC Monitoring’s Lamia Estatie published on July 11th 2016 under the headline “Hezbollah: Five ways group has changed since 2006 Israel war“.1701 Estatie art

“Its weapons arsenal grew from from [sic] 33,000 rockets and missiles before the 2006 war to an estimated 150,000. Similarly, it swelled from a few thousand members in 2006 to an estimated 20,000-plus.

After 2011, Hezbollah’s military support for the Iran-backed Syrian government – its weapons supply line – gave its fighters considerable combat experience and exposure to Russian military planning.”

No mention of UNSC Resolution 1701 appears in that report either.

It is apparent that as the decade since the UNSC’s adoption of 1701 progressed, BBC audiences saw less coverage of the topic of the existence of the resolution itself and the fact that its terms have been serially violated. Given the obligations to its funding public laid out in the public purposes remit, it is difficult to see how the BBC can justify that pattern of reporting.

Related Articles:

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two


Weekend long read

1) This coming Sunday CAMERA on Campus’ annual student conference will open in Boston, US.

“Students are coming from as far away as England, Scotland, and Canada to attend our training program,” said Aviva Slomich, CAMERA’s international campus director. “This in itself shows that campus anti-Zionism is a global problem, affecting many students.”

Read more about the conference here.Weekend Read

2) At the Tower, Jamie Palmer returns to the issue of the British Labour party and its recent inquiry into antisemitsm within its ranks.

“The Chakrabarti Report was a missed opportunity, the importance of which extends far beyond the parlous state of the Labour Party or the wider British Left. Across Europe, Islamist assassins and vandals are targeting Jewish schools, businesses, museums, synagogues, cemeteries, and kosher food establishments. It has become a cliché that a wave of anti-Semitism is washing over Europe.

Some on the Left have taken notice. Four days after the murder of four Jewish hostages during the siege of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris, France’s Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, described “the intolerable rise in acts of anti-Semitism in France” as a “symptom of a crisis of democracy [and] the French Republic.” But such urgent and necessary diagnoses from the political Left have been notable for their scarcity.”

3) At the Jerusalem Post, Seth Frantzman ponders the question of “Why Western leftists adore right-wing religious extremists abroad”.

“On a fairly consistent basis people in the West embrace values abroad that they shun at home. 

This is particularly odd and contradictory among those who self-identify as “Left” and “liberal” and then embrace movements, leaders, ideologies and religions that are manifestly illiberal and right- wing extremist abroad. For instance American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler said in 2006 that “understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important.””

4) At the Fathom Journal, Oxford academic Michael Yudkin discusses the academic boycott promoted by the BDS campaign.

“These days the phrase ‘academic boycott’ seems to have acquired a thoroughly restricted meaning. It has nothing to do with China, which has been in occupation of Tibet since 1949 and which routinely imprisons or ‘disappears’ human-rights lawyers; nothing to do with the US or the UK, which invaded Iraq in 2003 without the authorisation of the UN Security Council; and nothing to do with Russia, which seized 27,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory two years ago and has (with the enthusiastic support of Iran) been helping the government in Damascus to bomb Syrian civilians. Instead, ‘academic boycott’ is a term of art to describe a means of punishing Israeli academics for the actions of a government over which they have little or no power.”

5) An interesting paper titled “Understanding Iran’s Role in the Syrian Conflict” has been published by the RUSI.  

“Iran’s role in Syria is critical not only to the course of the latter’s five-year civil war, but also to longer-term developments in the wider region, not least because the country’s relations with key players, including Russia, Hizbullah, the Gulf States and the Syrian regime, will inevitably be affected by the outcome of the conflict.

The alliance between the Syrian regime and the Iranian leadership is, on the face of it, puzzling. The former is Arab, Alawite and secular, while Iran is Islamic, Shia and deeply religious. Nevertheless, since the civil war in Syria erupted in March 2011, Iran has been one of the key supporters of the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, and has maintained significant influence over the evolution of the conflict.

This paper presents the findings of a project designed to establish a better understanding of Tehran’s ultimate ambitions in Syria, its relations with the other state and non-state actors involved in the conflict, and its influence on Damascus and the outcome of the civil war.”

Comparing BBC reporting on strikes on hospitals in Syria and Gaza

On July 31st the Associated Press reported an airstrike (allegedly not the first) on a hospital in the Dara’a province of southern Syria.

“In southern Syria, an airstrike on a hospital in an opposition-controlled town put the facility out of service Sunday.

The hospital in Jasem was targeted in one of several airstrikes to hit the town in Deraa province, located some 35 miles (57 kilometers) south of Damascus, according to the Local Coordination Committees activist network. The group said six people were killed in the strikes, blaming them on the government.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the hospital strike killed a pharmacist and put the facility out of service.

In a statement later Sunday, the president of the International Rescue Committee, David Miliband, said the group was “dismayed” and “angry” at the attack on the hospital, which it was supporting. It said six people had been killed in the strike, and many more wounded. It said that across Syria “aid workers and civilians are being targeted in a merciless way on a daily basis,” and called for all those involved to be held to account.

Hospitals are regularly targeted in Syria’s war, drawing condemnation from the U.N. and the international community. The New York-based Physicians for Human Rights says over 90 percent of attacks on medical facilities in Syria have been carried out by pro-government forces.”

While the BBC News website has not yet reported that attack, it did publish cautiously worded written and filmed reports on an attack on another hospital in the Idlib province the previous day.

“It’s not yet known who was responsible for the attack…”

“These unverified pictures…”

“Amnesty International say the latest bombing appears to be part of what they describe as a despicable pattern of attacks in Syria deliberately targeting medical facilities.”

The BBC has also covered previous attacks on medical facilities in Syria, including in Aleppo in June and in April. In an article from February 2016 titled “Syria crisis: Air strikes on hospitals ‘war crimes’“, the BBC News website took the trouble to provide audiences with a short guide to the legal background to the topic.

insert bombing hospitals

So as we see, the BBC is aware of the fact that medical facilities can be a legitimate military target in certain situations but notably, it did not go to the trouble of informing its audiences of that fact two years ago during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Moreover, the corporation went out of its way at the time to conceal Hamas’ use of hospitals in the Gaza Strip for military purposes and to provide amplification for denial of that tactic, thereby implying that Israeli actions were unnecessary, unjustified and even unlawful. For example:Op pe Adams vers 2

Hospital on Gaza conflict’s front line” by Paul Adams, BBC News website, July 18th 2014 – discussed here.

“Israel says rockets have been fired from Basman al-Ashi’s hospital, a charge his staff deny completely.”

“World Update” interview with ISM activist, BBC World Service radio, July 31st 2014 – discussed here.

Damon: “Because you will know that there have been all kinds of rumours on the internet about hospitals being used to hide men and indeed weapons. Any evidence?”

Catron: “Oh yes; I’ve heard all these…all kinds of these rumours. I’ve seen numerous claims that al Wafa hospital where I stayed for a week in Shuja’iya was the centre of a Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant command centre. Now every journalist that came into the hospital from every major news agency had full run of the place. They could go anywhere in it they liked. How none of them ever noticed this command centre….”

Gaza conflict: Contrasting views on targeting” BBC News website, August 4th 2014 – discussed here.

“The Israelis say they have to bomb the hospitals and shelters because there are fighters here, but that is not true. The only people we have are sick people.” 

The BBC also amplified the false notion that Israel indiscriminately and unjustifiable targeted medical facilities – for example:Shifa Sahti tweet 1

Gaza crisis: Israel releases ‘aborted airstrike’ video” by Orla Guerin, BBC News website, July 31st 2014 – discussed here.

“This is a crowded area. People have nowhere to go. In many cases they have no transport, they have no means of escape. And you’re attacking hospitals where the wounded are being treated.”

Gaza ceasefire ends as Israel reports rocket fire” and “Israel air strikes resume in Gaza amid rockets” BBC News website, August 8th 2014 – discussed 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.”

It has continued to promote that falsehood since the conflict ended – for example here – and also to broadcast additional denial of Hamas’ use of hospitals for military purposes.Knell Beit Lahiya 1

So as we see in Syria, where there is cause to believe that medical facilities really are being attacked indiscriminately, the BBC uses very cautious wording and informs its audiences of the legal background to the issue. In contrast, in its reporting from the Gaza Strip in 2014, the BBC failed to provide any such background information, repeatedly promoted the theme of Israeli wrongdoing and actively misled its audiences with regard to the reason for Israeli actions against institutions such as Wafa hospital: Hamas’ use of that medical facility for military purposes.

Related Articles:

BBC claims that Israel targeted a centre for the disabled in Gaza shown to be inaccurate

Clarifications required for BBC reports on Shati incident

BBC reports on Wafa hospital shown to be inaccurate

Revisiting BBC reporting of civilian deaths in Gaza on July 28th 2014

Is the BBC’s report of Jabhat al-Nusra ‘split’ from al Qaeda too simplistic?

Those visiting the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of July 29th learned the following:

Nusra on ME pge

The article to which that link leads is titled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” and readers are told that:

“Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant].

He said the move was intended to remove the pretext used by powers, including the US and Russia, to bomb Syrians.”

But is the repeated claim that Jabhat al-Nusra has “split from al-Qaeda” an accurate representation of what actually happened? A senior fellow at the FDD doesn’t think so and his analysis (which includes a mention of this BBC article) is well worth reading in full.

“…Al Nusrah’s overt relationship with al Qaeda made it easy for Russia and the US to justify bombing Syria. For this reason, others in the Syrian insurgency objected to Al Nusrah’s status as an al Qaeda branch. (To date, American airstrikes have mainly targeted individual al Qaeda leaders embedded in Al Nusrah’s ranks, not the organization’s overall paramilitary force. However, the proposal for cooperation with Russia may have led to a change in that focus.)

Julani and Al Nusrah’s other leaders are sensitive to the complaint and so they wanted to eliminate this supposed pretext.

“For the aforementioned reasons, we declare the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat Al Nusrah, and the formation of a new group operating under the name ‘Jabhat Fath Al Sham,’ noting that this new organization has no affiliation to any external entity,” Julani says.

Press outlets and many analysts seized on this phrasing to argue that Julani had announced Al Nusrah’s “split,” or “break” from al Qaeda. Some even reported that Julani had thanked “commanders of al Qaeda for having understood the need to break ties.”

But that is not what Julani actually said. His remarks were far more nuanced and require careful analysis.

Julani did not explicitly say that Al Nusrah had broken or split from al Qaeda, which is the language used by the press. He made no such claims.

Instead, Julani said Jabhat Fath Al Sham would have “no affiliation to any external [or foreign] entity.” If Julani wanted to argue that he and his men no longer had any ties to al Qaeda, he could have said so. He didn’t. And his precise wording allows for a considerable amount of wiggle room.”

Later on in the BBC’s article readers are told that:Nusra art

“Analysts say the Nusra Front decided to rebrand itself after the US and Russia stepped up their military efforts against the group.

It is understood the group hopes to form closer alliances with other Islamist groups fighting in Syria.”

The article goes on to offer readers a link to a previous BBC report from March 2015.

“Al-Nusra first announced its existence in a video posted online in early 2012, some months after the Syrian civil war began.

It has been claimed that Qatar has relatively close ties with the group, probably through intermediaries.”

In that article (previously discussed here) audiences were told that:

“This is why Qatar is hoping to bring the Nusra Front in from the cold. If the state can get the group to eschew its al-Qaeda affiliation and adhere to a broadly moderate Islamist platform, Qatar can officially commence, with Western blessing, the supply of one of the most effective fighting forces in Syria.” [emphasis added]

But does Jabhat al-Nusra’s rebranding and potential “closer alliances” with additional groups really signal a step down the road to ‘moderation’? Analyst  Jennifer Cafarella does not think so:

“The cancellation of Jabhat al Nusra’s operations and rebranding of Jabhat al Nusra fighters does not remove the group from the global Salafi-jihadi movement, which believes in the use of violence to establish shari’a-based governance. Jabhat al Nusra will continue to fight to advance Syrian Salafi-jihadi interests under its new name. It has not renounced its vision of establishing an Islamic emirate in Syria. It has instead improved its chances of success by removing obstacles to unify the opposition under its leadership. 

 Syrian Salafi-jihadi groups want to unify opposition groups to increase the effectiveness of their war against the Assad regime. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper today noted that the formation of Jabhat Fatah al Sham likely aimed to “create the image of being more moderate in an attempt to unify and galvanize and appeal to other oppositionist (sic) groups in Syria.” […]

The decision to form Jabhat Fatah al Sham removes the primary source of the opposition’s resistance to a merger. Opposition groups have been hesitant to merge with Jabhat al Nusra for fear that affiliation with an al Qaeda branch would justify Russia’s air campaign and cause the U.S.-led coalition to target them. […]

It was certainly part of a plan coordinated with al Qaeda’s central leadership. Al Qaeda sanctioned the decision to form a new group in a message released today. This was no break from al Qaeda, but rather the execution of a deliberate global strategy on behalf of the movement. The al Qaeda statement emphasized that “the brotherhood of Islam that is between us is stronger than all the finite, ever-changing organizational links.” “

At the time of writing, the BBC’s profile of Jabhat al-Nusra has not been updated to include this latest development or to correct previously noted inaccuracies.

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