Two headlines in two hours for BBC report on Quneitra

A report published on the Middle East page of the BBC News website at 09:38 GMT on June 6th 2013 claimed in its opening sentence:

“Syrian rebels have taken over a UN-run border crossing in the Golan Heights after heavy clashes with regime forces.”

bbc quneitra

Later, the report went on to say: BBC quneitra 2

“Israeli army radio and Syrian activists reported that clashes were continuing on Thursday in the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line with Israel, which captured part of the plateau in 1967 and later annexed it in a move that has not been recognised by the international community.

“The rebels have seized the crossing near the old city of Quneitra in the occupied Golan Heights,” Rami Abdelrahman, head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters news agency.

Explosions and heavy shelling could be heard in the area.

“The sounds of shelling are very loud,” Raya Fakhradin, who lives in nearby Majdal-Shams, told the BBC.

“Everybody is scared. People have been stocking up on food supplies so that they don’t need to leave their homes.”

Majdal Shams is about 19 kms from Quneitra. Significantly more “nearby” are the kibbutzim Ortal, Ein Zivan and Merom Golan.

map quneitra

The article continued:

“Israel has not said which opposition group has taken over the Quneitra border crossing, and there has been no comment from the UN peacekeeping force which normally operates it and patrols the demilitarised zone.

Israeli officials have increasingly voiced fears the civil war in Syria could spill over their borders: They are worried the Golan Heights could be used to launch attacks against Israel, due to the number of Islamist extremists among the rebel forces.”

In fact, the situation was far from as clear as this BBC report claimed. Whilst a rebel militia apparently did gain control of the area early on Thursday morning, reports published by Ynet and the Jerusalem Post even before the BBC article was posted suggested that Syrian government forces had retaken the area within a relatively short time. Some of the shelling by Assad’s forces was shown in video footage posted on Youtube by a rebel militia and the fighting is apparently still ongoing, with reports of injured UN observers and an Austrian statement of intent to withdraw its forces from UNDOF. 


Less than two hours after the publication of the original article, at 11:16 GMT and using the same URL, the headline was changed to read “Syria conflict: Army ‘retakes Golan Heights crossing“.

bbc quneitra 3

The relevant parts of the body of the report also underwent considerable change and a side box of analysis by the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus was added in which – not for the first time – it was stated that:

 “On occasion, Israeli positions have come under fire and the Israeli army has fired back.”

bbc quneitra 4

As we have previously noted here, the use of the word “positions” will suggest to most readers that exclusively military installations have come under fire from Syria. As anyone following developments closely knows, that is patently not the case, with mortar shells having fallen in or near civilian communities and the BBC having frequently failed to report those incidents. 

Also not mentioned by the BBC in this report was a related incident which took place the same morning (Thursday) at the Rifka Ziv hospital in Tsfat (Safed) in which the emergency and trauma rooms had to be evacuated when staff discovered a live grenade on the person of an unconscious Syrian wounded in the fighting in Quneitra who had been brought to the hospital for treatment. 

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