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.   

Related Articles:

BBC News website map misleads on UNDOF

BBC inconsistency on Iran’s Syria build-up continues

What do BBC audiences know about the background to tensions in northern Israel?

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BBC News website map misleads on UNDOF

An article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” which appeared on the BBC News website on June 27th includes a map showing the areas under the control of different parties in south-west Syria.

As can be seen below, the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) are portrayed as being present in the demilitarised zone that came into existence under the terms of the  1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.

However, as noted in this report from May 31st, UNDOF vastly reduced its physical presence in the so-called demilitarised zone nearly four years ago when it redeployed to the Israeli side.

“The mission’s observation role has been limited since its September 2014 relocation to the Alpha side of the ceasefire line. […]

Israel and Syria value UNDOF’s presence and want to see the mission return to the Bravo side. However, the security situation on the Syrian side is still not conducive to full redeployment of UNDOF troops. Council members continue to support the eventual complete return of UNDOF to the Bravo side but are mindful that this would require a favourable security environment, which is crucial for maintaining the confidence of troop-contributing countries.”

As the UN Security Council noted when it last extended UNDOF’s mandate, the so-called demilitarized zone has long failed to live up to its name.

“Stressing that there should be no military forces in the area of separation other than those of UNDOF,

Strongly condemning the continued fighting in the area of separation, calling on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operations and to respect international humanitarian law,

Condemning the use of heavy weapons by both the Syrian armed forces and armed groups in the ongoing Syrian conflict in the area of separation, including the use of tanks by the Syrian armed forces and opposition during clashes,”

Moreover, it was recently reported that Syrian regime troops have taken over an abandoned UNDOF position in the DMZ in violation of the 1974 agreement.

While the UNSC stated that “the ultimate goal is for the peacekeepers to return to their positions in UNDOF’s area of operations as soon as practicable” that is currently not the case and so the BBC’s portrayal of the DMZ as being an area in which UNDOF has a physical presence is inaccurate and misleading to audiences.

 

 

 

Twenty-nine hours later – BBC News reports Golan cross-border attack

At around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of November 27th an incident took place along the border in the south Golan Heights.

“Soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit had crossed the security fence with Syria to conduct an “ambush operation,” while remaining inside Israeli territory, when they came under attack from small arms fire, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

They returned fire, but soon came under attack from mortar shells.

In response, the Israel Air Force targeted a truck “that had some sort of machine gun on top of it” and killed the four terrorists who were riding in it. […]

According to the IDF, the four men were members of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, formerly known as the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist group in Syria that is connected with the Islamic State. […]

The incident was the first major confrontation between Israeli forces and Islamic State affiliated terrorists in the Golan, though Israel has clashed with other fighters on the Syrian side of the border several times.”

The incident received coverage on the BBC Arabic website on the same day. Bizarrely, the article was tagged “Palestinian-Israeli conflict” even though it obviously has nothing to do with that subject matter.

During the night between November 27th and 28th, a building used by the ISIS linked terrorist group was struck by the Israeli air force.

“The IDF said Monday that the target in the overnight airstrike was an “abandoned UN building that has been used by the Islamic State as an operations center along the border in the southern Syrian Golan Heights,” adding that “the compound was the base for yesterday’s attack against IDF forces.”

“This is an additional response to yesterday’s attack, and it is aimed at preventing the terrorists from returning to the installation which poses a significant threat,” the IDF said.”

In the early afternoon of November 28th the BBC News website published a report concerning that strike and the previous day’s incident – which had hitherto gone unreported in English.golan-incident-report

Headlined “Israeli aircraft target IS position in Syrian Golan Heights“, the article opens with an account of the last of the story’s events.

“The Israeli Air Force has bombed a building used by Islamic State (IS) militants in the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights, Israel’s military says.

The air raid targeted an abandoned UN peacekeeping facility used as a base for an attack on Sunday against Israeli soldiers on Israeli-occupied territory.

The four militants behind that attack were killed in an earlier strike.”

Readers are not provided with any explanation as to why the UN building was “abandoned” and are not reminded that the so-called ‘demilitarised zone’ has long since ceased to meet that definition, with UNDOF forces having largely retreated from the area. Moreover, towards the end of this report readers find the standard – but now irrelevant – BBC mantra concerning the Golan Heights.

“Israel seized the region in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which a UN peacekeeping force was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.”

Only in the sixth paragraph do readers find out about the attack that sparked events.

“In Sunday’s incident, Israeli soldiers came under machine-gun and mortar fire, according to the Israeli military.

The air force bombed a vehicle carrying the assailants, whom the military said were members of the IS-linked Khaled Ibn al-Walid Brigade, a Syrian group formerly called the Yarmouk Martyrs’ Brigade.” [emphasis added]

Not only did the IDF ‘say’ that the four terrorists were members of the ISIS linked group: the BBC refrains from informing its audiences that ISIS later published their photographs.

Readers are not provided with any further information concerning Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed or its recent internal conflicts. Neither are they reminded that one of the groups making up that organisation – the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade – kidnapped UN forces in 2013. Readers are not given any information concerning the size of the area controlled by the ISIS affiliated group adjacent to Israel’s border and the Syrian civilians living in that region have not been the topic of any BBC coverage.

How Pavlovian BBC responses can lead to inaccurate reporting

On January 22nd the BBC News website published a report titled “Syrian arrested in Germany over UN kidnapping” which opens as follows:Syrian arrested art

“A Syrian has been arrested in the south German city of Stuttgart on suspicion of helping to kidnap a UN peacekeeper in Damascus, prosecutors say.

The peacekeeper escaped in October 2013, eight months after being captured in Syria’s capital.

Germany’s federal prosecutors say al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group affiliated to al-Qaeda, was behind the kidnapping.”

The article goes on to state:

“The peacekeeper, whose nationality was not named, had been based in the demilitarised zone on the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights and it is not known why he was in Damascus.” [emphasis added]

As anyone familiar with the region will know, the area still known as the demilitarized zone (although it long since ceased to meet that description) is not “Israeli-occupied” at all and has not been throughout more than four decades of its existence.Camp Faouar

But a closer look at this story demonstrates even further how the Pavlovian response “Israeli-occupied” to the term “Golan Heights” from a BBC journalist led to inaccurate reporting.

Whilst the German authorities may indeed not have mentioned the UN peacekeeper’s identity and nationality, as other reports on the story note, the only person of that description to have escaped his kidnappers in October 2013 after eight months in captivity was the Canadian national Carl Campeau who acted as a legal advisor to UNDOF.

And – as noted in several interviews given by Mr Campeau after his ordeal – at the time of his kidnapping he was actually based in Syria – at UNDOF’s Camp Faouar which is located to the east of the demilitarised zone.

In other words, there was no reason whatsoever for the term “Israeli-occupied” to appear in this report.  

BBC still promoting the myth of a demilitarized zone that doesn’t exist

October 1st saw the appearance of a report titled “Syria peacekeeping ‘impossible’ – Philippines leader” on the BBC News website’s Asia and Middle East pages. The article relates to statements made by the President of the Philippines at a welcoming ceremony for his country’s soldiers formerly stationed with UNDOF in the Golan Heights.UNDOF Phil Pres art

“President Aquino on Wednesday raised the possibility the Philippines would no longer deploy Filipino troops in UN peacekeeping operations during ceremonies in Malacañang where he led a hero’s welcome for soldiers pulled out from the Golan Heights where they had battled Syrian rebels late last August. […]

The President criticized the United Nations for rejecting requests to provide additional firearms for Filipino peacekeepers, who faced what he called “mission impossible” in the Golan Heights. […]

“When the situation changed, when rebels began to show up in this area of disengagement, [the United Nations] should have addressed the situation and said there was a new mission,” he said.”

Since late August the BBC News website has produced numerous articles on the topic of the UNDOF mission – see here, here, here, here and here . This latest report brings the total number of articles on the subject published in the five weeks between August 28th and October 1st 2014 to nine.

Most of those reports include standard statements along the lines of this one from the latest article:

“Israel seized most of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in south-western Syria, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which the UN Disengagement Observer Force was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

As this latest report and a quotation in the BBC’s September 1st article both illustrate, countries contributing personnel to UNDOF are well aware of the fact that the situation on the ground has changed significantly in the past couple of years and the terms of 1974 armistice agreement cited by the BBC are no longer being upheld.

” “I’ve made it very clear that I’m not going to continue to commit Irish troops to this mission unless there’s a very fundamental review of how it’s going to operate. Clearly this is no longer a demilitarized zone,” Irish Defence Minister Simon Coveney told RTE radio.”

Recent reports from the UN Secretary General and the Security Council both reflect the changes brought about by the fact that the UN’s presence failed to keep the DMZ demilitarized.

UN SC UNDOF

The widely reported infiltration of a Syrian military aircraft into Israeli territory on September 23rd was only covered by the BBC News website in the form of a brief announcement on a live page being run that day on the subject of US airstrikes against ISIS. 

Syrian aircraft infiltration 23 9

BBC audiences continue to remain in the dark with regard to the significant changes and developments in that particular part of the Middle East due to the fact that the corporation continues to use long redundant template descriptions of the region in its articles and its area profile, hence impeding audience understanding of current and future events. 

BBC’s template wording on Golan Heights fails to keep audiences abreast of events

The BBC News website’s coverage of the recent incidents involving two different groups of UNDOF personnel began on August 28th with some problematic geography.

BBC breaking tweet UNDOF

UNDOF

Just over half an hour later, someone at BBC News apparently realised that the Syrian opposition group which captured UNDOF soldiers was unlikely to be located in the part of the Golan Heights the BBC terms “disputed” and that hence the automatic reflex adjective was inaccurate.

UNDOF 2

The title of BBC’s article on the topic was amended to read “Syria conflict: UN peacekeepers held in Golan Heights” and changes to that report – originally date-stamped August 28th – can be seen here. The article states:

“It comes a day after rebels took control of a crossing into the Israeli-occupied Golan after a long battle.

Activists said the rebels included members of the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

During the fighting, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli civilian were wounded by stray bullets. The Israeli military said it had responded with artillery fire at two Syrian army positions.”

In fact, whilst the IDF officer was injured by a gunshot wound to the chest, the civilian from Kibbutz Ein Zivan was wounded by mortar fire. Those events on August 27th had previously been briefly and partially mentioned at the end of a report titled “Syria conflict: Islamic State ‘committed war crimes’“.

“In a separate development, Syrian rebel groups including the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front have taken control of a crossing between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, according to a UK-based monitoring group.

“The Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Israel Defence Forces said one of its officers “was moderately injured as a result of errant fire from Syria”.

“In response, we struck 2 Syrian military positions in the Golan Heights,” an IDF spokesperson [sic]”.

The BBC News website’s second report on the UNDOF story appeared on August 29th under the title “Golan Heights: UN calls for release of Fijian peacekeepers“. On August 30th a third report appeared titled “Philippine troops ‘attacked in Syria’s Golan Heights’” and on August 31st a fourth report was published under the title “Philippine peacekeepers rescued in Syria’s Golan Heights“.

The first two articles both include the following statements taken in part from the BBC’s problematic profile of the Golan Heights which fails to make any mention of why Israel captured the area and its use by Syria prior to June 1967 as a position from which to attack Israeli civilian communities below.

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region in the closing stages of the 1967 Six-Day War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

Both countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

The latter two reports use the following formulation:

“Israel seized most of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau in south-western Syria, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two countries signed an armistice in 1974, after which Undof was put in place to monitor the demilitarised zone.

It has 1,224 lightly-armed military personnel from Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands and the Philippines.”

UNDOF’s actual mandate includes of course rather more than the BBC’s simplistic portrayal reveals and includes ensuring that both parties to the 1974 Israel-Syria Separation of Forces Agreement keep its terms.

UNDOF mandate

In relation to clause 5 above:

“The UNDOF shall carry out inspections under the agreement, and report there on to the parties, on a regular basis, not less often that once every fifteen days, and, in addition, when requested by either party.”

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, conditions on the ground have changed and the demilitarized zone has long since ceased to live up to its name. UNDOF personnel are known to have ceased inspections in the area of limitation in armament and forces on the Syrian side. On its website, UNDOF itself divides its activity into two phases: 1974 to 2012 and 2013 to the present because of the change in conditions.UNDOF art 4

“A considerable escalation of the conflict in Syria in 2013 has affected the UNDOF area of operations significantly. The military operations carried out by the Syrian Arab armed forces and the armed members of the opposition in the area of separation have adversely affected the efforts of the Force to effectively carry out the mandated tasks. They have also significantly raised the potential of escalating tensions between Israel and Syria and jeopardizing the decades-long ceasefire between the two countries and the stability of the whole region. […]

By its resolution 2108 of 27 June 2013, the Security Council stressed the obligation of both Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic to scrupulously observe the 1974 Disengagement of Forces Agreement and abide by its terms. Underscoring that there should be no military forces in the area of separation, it also called on all parties to the Syrian domestic conflict to cease military actions in the UNDOF area of operation.”

Beyond moves such as the above resolution, the UN Security Council has done nothing to bring about the restoration of the designated status of the demilitarized zone which its UNDOF forces failed to keep free of military activity in accordance with their mandate. With frequent bouts of fighting between Syrian government forces and opposition groups taking place in that area often resulting in spillover fire into Israel and with tensions along the border rising as a result, UNDOF’s failure to meet its purpose is clearly an issue of significance about which BBC audiences need to be informed if they are to be able to reach informed opinions on current and future events and to understand Israeli reactions to them. That information was not provided in any of these four articles, which instead use template wording which has already been irrelevant for two years.  

BBC reporting on Golan Heights attack passes up on providing crucial background

On the afternoon of March 18th Israeli soldiers patrolling the northern part of the border with Syria in the Golan Heights noticed something suspicious near the fence which marks the western (‘Alpha’) side of the demilitarised zone, adjacent to an area of the border currently controlled by the Syrian army. After they got out of their vehicle to investigate, an explosive device was detonated, injuring four soldiers: one lightly, two moderately and one very seriously. Israel responded with artillery fire towards Syrian army positions.

Several hours later a report appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website under the title “Israeli soldiers wounded by bomb blast in Golan Heights“. The incident itself is described in three short paragraphs phrased to suggest to readers that the information has not been confirmed by the BBC. IED Golan Tues 1

“Four Israeli soldiers have been hurt by a bomb blast near the demilitarised zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria, Israel says.

The device was detonated as the troops approached the frontier on foot after identifying “suspicious activity”, an Israeli military spokesperson said.

Israeli artillery subsequently fired on Syrian military positions in the area.”

The only reference to the severity of the injuries sustained by the soldiers comes in the caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article.

“The Israeli military said one of the soldiers was seriously wounded by the explosion”.

The report goes on to mention (partially) two previous recent incidents among several ignored by the BBC at the time.

“Two weeks ago, Israeli troops shot two “Hezbollah-affiliated terrorists” attempting to plant an explosive device near the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone, the Israeli military said.

And on Friday, an explosive device was detonated near soldiers patrolling the nearby border with Lebanon. No casualties were reported after the incident in the Mount Dov area, which Israel blamed on Hezbollah.”

The article’s next four paragraphs repeat versions of information appearing in the profile of the Golan Heights which appears on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and – despite being last updated in May 2013 – still erroneously refers to “the pre-1967 border” instead of 1949 Armistice lines. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.

Since the uprising began in Syria three years ago, both government forces and rebel fighters have repeatedly crossed into the buffer zone, and there have been several exchanges of fire with Israeli troops.”

The report fails to make clear to readers that all of those “exchanges of fire” took place after cross-border attacks – intentional or not – from the Syrian side of the fence. It also fails to clarify sufficiently to readers that the presence of armed Syrian military forces inside the demilitarised zone contravenes the ceasefire agreement of 1974. Additionally, BBC audiences are not informed that the demilitarised zone is now only partially monitored by UNDOF or that the routine weapons inspections that body is supposed to carry out (to ensure that both Israel and Syria adhere to the permitted quotas specified in the ceasefire agreement) are no longer being carried out by UNDOF on the Syrian side.

Early in the morning of March 19th Israel responded to the previous day’s attack with strikes on Syrian military facilities on the eastern side of the Golan Heights. Here is how that event was presented by one official BBC Twitter account:

tweet bbc world response

And here by another:

tweet bbc me english response

An article titled “Israel attacks Syrian army sites in Golan Heights clash” appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on March 19th. The caption to the photograph chosen to illustrate the article states: Golan incident response report

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has great political and strategic significance”. [emphasis added]

Earlier versions of the article opened:

“Israel says it has attacked several Syrian military sites in retaliation for a bombing that wounded four of its troops in the occupied Golan Heights.

Israel’s military said its targets included a Syrian army headquarters, a training facility and artillery units.”

Readers of the report’s initial versions were not provided with any updated information regarding the wounded soldiers (one of whom, at the time of writing, remains in a critical condition) and most of the information given was recycled from the previous day’s report in the form of a link.

“It comes after four Israeli soldiers were hurt in an explosion on Tuesday. […]

Israel said four of its soldiers were injured as they approached the demilitarized zone after identifying “suspicious activity” on Tuesday.”

In the report’s third and fourth versions (which appeared some two hours and four hours respectively after the original) the above was replaced by the following statement:

“On Tuesday, the four Israeli soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, when an explosive device was detonated as they approached the fence demarcating the demilitarised zone.”

In the report’s two earlier versions, once again audiences were encouraged to see prior cross-border incidents in terms of equivalence rather than them being accurately described as Israeli responses to attacks from the Syrian side.

“Syrian and Israeli forces have traded fire a number of times over the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights since the uprising in Syria began.” [emphasis added]

The third and fourth versions of the report included the following:

“The Israeli air force has conducted several attacks on Syria since the uprising began three years ago.

Those air strikes are believed to have prevented the transfer of stockpiles of rockets from the Syrian government to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement that supports President Bashar al-Assad.”

Of course Israel has not given any official notification of having carried out those strikes, but yet again it appears that in this case – despite editorial guidelines on accuracy – the BBC is in no need of confirmation before turning its correspondents’ conjecture into ‘fact’. 

This report too includes general background material based on the BBC’s less than accurate Golan Heights profile. [emphasis added]

“The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, has a political and strategic significance that belies its size.

Israel seized the region from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East War, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake it in 1973.

The two countries remain technically in a state of war, and UN observers are deployed to monitor the 70km-long (44-mile) demilitarised zone.”

Once again, the BBC failed in all versions of this report to adequately clarify to audiences the current situation regarding the demilitarised zone, the decline in UNDOF supervision and the presence there of armed Syrian forces in violation of the ceasefire agreement. 

The article’s fourth version (which had its title changed to “Israeli air strikes in Golan ‘kill Syrian soldier'”) included Syrian state media notification of military casualties resulting from the Wednesday morning strike and uncritically quoted a bizarre official statement from a regime which has killed hundreds of thousands of its own citizens over the last three years. Golan response art vers 4

“But the Syrian General Command of the Army and Armed Forces was quoted as saying the air strikes were an attempt to “divert attention from the successive victories” of its troops against rebel forces, particularly the recapture of the town of Yabroud, north of Damascus, over the weekend.

It also warned Israel that “such aggressive acts would jeopardise the region’s security and stability, and make it vulnerable to all options”.”

That version of the article also included the following outlandish assumption from the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly:

“The choice of targets demonstrates that Israel is clearly blaming Syrian government forces, and not rebel fighters or units of Hezbollah, for the attack on its patrol, our correspondent says.”

In fact, whilst it has yet to be established which organisation carried out the attack, the Israeli minister of defence made it clear that “Israel viewed Syrian President Bashar Assad as the person responsible for what happens in his country”.

Earlier versions of the report  included the following:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the border with Syria has been recently “filling up” with jihadist fighters hostile to Israel and militants from the Lebanese Shia Islamist movement, Hezbollah.”

No attempt was made to provide BBC audiences with further background information on the topic of the different armed elements to be found on the Syrian side of the border.

The article ends by again mentioning the previously unreported incidents of March 4th in which an attempt was made to plant an IED in the same area and last Friday’s attack at Har Dov. It is not made clear that Tuesday’s attack took place along a stretch of the frontier controlled by Assad’s forces, in contrast to much of the rest of the border which is held by opposition militias of one description or another. 

The BBC’s coverage of incidents in the Golan Heights over the past year or so has been patchy at best.  Hence, with audiences already lacking much of the context to this latest incident, proper provision of factual information relevant to the story’s background would have enhanced readers’ understanding of events. Unfortunately however, the opportunity to inform audiences on the current state of affairs along the border and of the reasons for the growing ineffectiveness of the demilitarised zone in preventing attacks such as the one which took place on Tuesday – and any future ones – was passed up by the BBC.

BBC captions photo of tourist attraction as “army position”

An article appearing on the Middle East page of the BBC News website on June 11th 2013 related to the withdrawal of Austrian members of UNDOF from the Golan Heights.

Austria UNDOF withdrawal

The article is reasonably impartial, but includes two inaccuracies. It describes the Quneitra crossing as:

“..the only open crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights”

Quneitra cannot be accurately described as an “open crossing” as it is used on a regular basis only by members of UN forces and – with prior co-ordination and after the issue of the appropriate permits – by members of the Golan Druze community studying in Syria. It is also used on occasion by Druze from the Golan villages getting married in Syria or Syrian Druze getting married in the Golan, by Druze pilgrims to Syria and as a point of entry for the trade of apples grown in the Druze villages, with the coordination of the Red Cross. Tourists or civilians who do not belong to the Druze community cannot use the crossing. 

The article also states:

“Syria’s deployment of tanks in the demilitarised zone violates ceasefire agreements in place since the Arab-Israeli war of 1973..”

Whilst the Yom Kippur war certainly began in October 1973, the ceasefire agreements only came into being at the end of May 1974

On the Middle East homepage, the article was presented together with two ‘related articles’, one of which is the BBC’s profile of the Golan Heights.

GH profile on HP

We have already addressed the subject of inaccuracies in the “overview” section of that profile here, but in the “timeline” section we also find an inaccurately captioned photograph.

Bental bbc GH profile

That photograph was in fact taken at Mount Bental, which is not “an army position” as claimed by the BBC, but a tourist attraction run by Kibbutz Merom Golan.  The metal cut-out soldier on the left of the BBC’s picture can be seen in the photograph below from the opposite angle – with the site’s decidedly un-military coffee shop in the background.  

pic bental

BBC reports UN kidnapping, ignores mortar fire into Israel

Position 86

On May 7th 2013 an article entitled “Syria crisis: UN peacekeepers seized on Golan Heights” appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website, relating to the latest case of kidnapping of members of the UNDOF force from the area of Position 86 – located in the buffer zone between Israel and Syria. 

The article opens:

“Four Filipino UN peacekeepers have been abducted by armed men while patrolling in the demilitarised area between Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.”

Only later does the reader discover that these “armed men” are actually part of the opposition forces in Syria.

“A Syrian rebel group, the Martyrs of Yarmouk, published a photo purportedly showing the four men and said they were being held for their own safety.”

As was the case in the BBC’s reporting of the previous kidnapping incident in March, no explanation is given to readers regarding the Jihadist ideology of the kidnappers. And once again, whilst the BBC does report on the abduction of UN troops, it fails to report on preceding cross-border incidents, making do with the following statement:

“UN officials told the AFP news agency that there had been increased military activity by Syrian government and rebel forces in the demilitarised zone, and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed there had been recent heavy fighting.”

During that heavy fighting in the region of the village of Jamla, mortar shells were fired across the border, landing near Ramat Magshimim, on two occasions on the afternoon of May 6th and also on the morning of May 7th. Fortunately, no injuries or damage were sustained. The BBC did not see fit to report either of those incidents, not even as an addition to its later report on the abduction.

With the Philippines now reportedly considering pulling its troops out of UNDOF as a result of this second kidnapping, developments along the border between Israel and Syria require accurate and comprehensive reporting if BBC audiences are to comprehend any future events in a more realistic manner than the BBC’s coverage of incidents preceding Operation Pillar of Cloud along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip facilitated. 

Beyond the BBC Middle East news filter

Among the recent Middle East events not reported by the BBC was the controversy caused on April 1st when Fatah-affiliated students at a university in Tulkarem hung and burned an effigy of the Emir of Qatar at an election rally. 

The action was condemned by PA president Mahmoud Abbas, as well as by Hamas – which apparently demanded that the PA arrest the students concerned. According to journalist/activist Hazem Balousha (he of the Donnison fauxtography tweet fame), Hamas e-mailed a statement on the subject to reporters:

“In a press statement that was sent out to reporters via email, Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas’ spokesman, said that “Hamas considers Abbas’ condemnation of the abusive act on the part of some Fatah-affiliated youth to the Qatari leadership not to be enough and does not relieve him from responsibility given the fact that he is the head of the Fatah movement. We condemn this irresponsible act and call upon Abbas to arrest the culprits in order to preserve our foreign relations. We consider this act to be the result of incitement on the part of some Fatah leadership to support certain Arab parties against others.” “

The possibility that this incident received no coverage from the BBC because its e-mail does not appear in the Hamas address book of course exists, but given the BBC’s well documented – if naïve – enthusiasm for the subject of Hamas/Fatah reconciliation, it seems rather more likely that this was not considered to be a ‘need to know’ item for BBC audiences. 

Another recent event not reported by the BBC was an additional incident of cross-border fire in the Golan Heights on April 12th. The ever-looming possibility of withdrawal of UN peace-keeping forces from the buffer zone between Israel and Syria has also failed to generate any significant coverage by the BBC. 

“Austrian UN peacekeepers, fearing their safety due to fighting in Syria, will assess on a daily basis if they can stay to monitor a truce between Israel and Syria, Austria’s foreign minister said on Friday. [..]

“We have decided, as Austrians, to stay as long as we can, this is our mandate … (but) we have to decide every day if it’s possible,” Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said.

 “We will do so as long as is possible,” he told Reuters after visiting Austria’s UN contingent on the Golan Heights, where he was briefed about the situation.

 In the past three months, Japan and Croatia have both said they were withdrawing their troops from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

Austrians account for around 380 of the 1,000-strong mission and should Vienna quit the operation, it was unclear if any other nation would be ready to step into the breach.”

On April 13th the IDF apprehended a Palestinian intending to carry out a terror attack at the Eliyahu checkpoint near Kfar Saba and on April 14th three prominent members of Hamas from the Jenin area were arrested by the IDF according to Palestinian sources. There has been no coverage of the attempted terror attack by the BBC.

Neither has the BBC seen fit to inform its audiences of the recent call by the overwhelming majority of members of the Jordanian parliament to pardon the murderer of seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 at the ‘Isle of Peace’ at Naharayim.  

BBC audiences’ understanding of the Middle East is of course just as dependent upon which news items are filtered out as it is on what is actually reported.