What were BBC audiences told about the Hamas facility under UNRWA’s HQ?

On the evening of February 10th news broke of the IDF’s discovery of a Hamas data centre in a tunnel complex located underneath UNRWA’s headquarters and an UNRWA school in the Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City.

Among the media outlets reporting the story was the Times of Israel:

“UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters is located in Gaza City’s upscale Rimal neighborhood, an area that the IDF had previously operated in, dismantled the local Hamas battalion and withdrawn its troops from.

At the time of the initial ground offensive in Gaza City, the military had not found or known much about the Hamas data center. But new intelligence, primarily emerging from the Shin Bet interrogations of captured terrorists, helped pinpoint where to dig. […]

IDF officials believe Hamas used the server farm for intelligence gathering, data processing and communications. Hard drives and some of the computers were taken to Israel to be investigated by intelligence authorities before the tunnel system was demolished in a large explosion. […]

At the main building in the UN complex, Aharon led the reporters to UNRWA’s server room, which he said sits directly above the underground Hamas data center, where the reporters had been a short while earlier.

“Some of the cables connect down,” he said, showing a line of cables running down to and into the floor, as we stood above the Hamas data center.

The IDF said the electrical cables leading from the UN building to the tunnel were providing power to the Hamas infrastructure belowground.

The UNRWA server room, unlike the Hamas one, appeared to be mostly empty. One server cabinet was placed outside the room, but it had been stripped of all the computers.

“They cleared out all the computers, all the DVRs (digital video recorder for surveillance cameras), cut [most of] the cables, this is the behavior of someone who has something to hide,” Aharon said.”

Following the publication of that story, the commissioner-general of UNRWA swiftly put out a Tweet denying any knowledge of the Hamas data centre.

Lazzarini’s claim that “[t]he Israeli Authorities have not informed UNRWA officially about the alleged tunnel” was subsequently challenged.

“In a response posted to Twitter, COGAT said that UN officials had been informed of the terror group utilizing the Gaza City headquarters and that the data center had been there before the agency’s staff decamped for elsewhere.

“Digging a tunnel takes longer than 4 months. We invited senior UN officials to see, and during past meetings with you and other UN officials, we stated Hamas’s use of UNRWA’s headquarters,” it wrote in a tweet.”

Notably, just eight days earlier the Wall Street Journal had reported that:

“In 2014, part of the parking lot at the Unrwa headquarters in Gaza began sinking, likely from a Hamas tunnel dug beneath. “No one talked about what was causing the collapse,” a former Unrwa official said, “but everyone knew.””

Some nine hours after that latest UNRWA story broke, the BBC News website published an uncredited report titled “Warnings over Rafah offensive mount as Israel plans push in Gaza” on its ‘Middle East’ page in which readers are told only that:

As we see, the BBC refrained from telling its audiences what was housed in that tunnel under the UNRWA HQ, thus avoiding the topic of the physical connection between UNRWA’s server room and the Hamas data centre.

In the same report, readers are told that:

“In other developments on Saturday: […]

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its air force killed two Hamas operatives in the southern city”

By the time the BBC published its report, the identities of the Hamas operatives had been on record for several hours:

“The main target of the strike was Ahmed Al-Yaaqoubi, who the IDF and Shin Bet say was responsible for the security arrangements of senior Hamas officials and served as a senior officer in the Rafah district’s secret police department.

Iman Rantisi, a Hamas military operative and senior official in the terror group’s general security investigations department, and another officer in the Rafah district’s secret police department, were also killed in the strike, the IDF says.”

The BBC did however take the trouble to inform readers that:

“The BBC is unable to independently verify many battlefield claims made during the course of the war.”

Some three hours after the publication of that report – i.e around twelve hours after the news about the Hamas data centre under the UNRWA HQ had broken – the BBC News website published an article by Jeremy Bowen titled “Israel-Gaza war: Death and Israel’s search for ‘total victory’” which includes comment from (and a photo-op with) UNRWA’s commissioner-general.

Bowen did not however find fit to add the latest discoveries concerning Hamas and UNRWA – and Lazzarini’s implausible denials – to his article promoting the claim that “Mr Lazzarini says he takes the allegations very seriously, is determined to root out any Hamas sympathisers”.

That is perhaps hardly surprising given Bowen’s earlier promotion of inaccurate information and an unfounded smear in his article:

“Under pressure from US President Joe Biden, Israel now allows limited supplies of food, water and medicine into Gaza. But it continues to restrict the entry of relief supplies into Gaza and the movement of relief convoys inside the Strip.

Israel claims what goes in is adequate. International aid groups say on top of the fact that innocent civilians in Gaza are being killed and wounded, they are also being starved and deprived of medical treatment. The Geneva Convention says that punishing civilians for crimes they did not commit amounts to collective punishment, which is a war crime.”

Some fifteen hours later, amendments were made to Bowen’s article – including a response from the Israeli embassy in London and promotion of UN denials concerning Hamas’ theft of aid – but that ‘war crime’ smear remains in situ. 

Bowen does not reveal the identities of the cited “international aid groups” and does not clarify whether or not they include UNRWA but this is far from the first time that BBC audiences have been misled on the topic of humanitarian aid.  Just over two weeks ago, similar claims were promoted in another of the BBC News website’s “Israel Gaza briefings”.

As we noted at the time, already by mid-January COGAT had clarified that:

“It is important to emphasize that every day Israel inspects some 300 aid trucks. However, due to logistical failings on the part of the UN agencies, particularly UNRWA, only 120 trucks on average assemble at the border crossings and end up distributing their goods in the Gaza Strip. Each day, hundreds of trucks, having passed Israeli inspection, await entry into the Gaza Strip to unload their cargo. […]

To our knowledge, the aid organizations have a division of responsibilities between them: UNRWA is responsible mainly for the population in shelters; WFP and other NGO’s supply food to those outside the shelters, and the private sector operates parallel to the organizations. […]

Internal disputes over the work methods – The movements of the population and their concentration in specific locations, were supposed to improve the way the food was being distributed in an orderly manner. However, the aid organizations disagree among themselves on how to operate, ending up hindering the distribution to the population (this situation has resulted in the WFP importing food from Jordan without participation from UNRWA, which is preventing other agencies in the Gaza Strip from carrying out their mission and working proactively and on a large scale within the Gaza Strip).”

With over four months of BBC reporting on the current war already on record, it is glaringly obvious that until the corporation’s journalists start taking a more critical approach to UNRWA, its audiences will continue to be fed inaccurate and incomplete information which actively hinders their full understanding of the story.

Related Articles:

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3 Comments

  1. says: Neil C

    If the British government do not take action against the BBC, I suspect there will be prosecutions falling in the lap of this discredited organisation in the near future, BBC news for sure has Hamas operatives employed there, just as Al Jazeera’s top reporter in Gaza is a senior commander of Hamas. A report from the BBC about the initial attack on October 7th was posted to their website within 30 minutes of the tseva adom on my phone lighting up at 4.30am UK time. Nobody could have reported that they had fired 5000 rockets when at that moment in time only a few hundred had been fired unless they had prior knowledge of the event. #defundthebbc

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