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Beeb miffs Israelis

Gov't breaks some ties with Brit pubcaster

JERUSALEM — Israel said Monday it had severed contacts with the BBC over coverage it termed akin to the worst “Nazi propaganda,” but the British pubcaster can still report from the Jewish nation.

Israeli officials have criticized BBC coverage of the 33-month-old Palestinian uprising for statehood, and one described a documentary called “Israel’s Secret Weapon” on the country’s alleged nuclear and chemical arms programs as the “last straw.”

Officials said the Government Press Office, Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office would no longer grant BBC correspondents interviews or offer them services usually provided to foreign journalists.

“The way BBC is trying to portray Israel competes with the worst of Nazi propaganda,” said GPO head Danny Seaman. “In the guise of journalistic integrity, it lends support to evil portrayals of Israel and the Jewish people, which has been done before in the gravest of circumstances.”

A BBC spokesman said: “We stand by our program. We regret any response that the Israeli government might make that would hinder our journalism.”

The BBC documentary, shown in the U.K. in March and aired abroad Saturday, focused mainly on Israel’s nuclear program. But a BBC script of the program alleged Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip had used a new gas in February 2001 that put 180 people in hospitals with severe convulsions.

“The program tried to show that we don’t abide by international law,” Seaman said, condemning “a bias and an anti-Israeli line apparent in a series of programs that portray Israel in a very evil light.”

Israel would continue to withhold cooperation from the BBC until it “believes there is full understanding of Israeli policy-making and the BBC is behaving in a professional and balanced manner,” he said.

The BBC’s Jerusalem office would retain its accreditation and would not be kept out of government news conferences, Seaman said. But the BBC would not be invited to special briefings.

The BBC and the British government are currently trading blows over the broadcaster’s allegations that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office exaggerated the weapons of mass destruction threat posed by Iraq.

On Monday Alastair Campbell, Blair’s director of communications, said the government would not “back down one inch” in its determination to secure an apology for a story broadcast May 29 by BBC Radio 4’s flagship news program, “Today.”

“Today” defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan claimed that a source in Blighty’s secret service, MI5, told him that Campbell had deliberately exaggerated intelligence material, publishing the “sexed up” information in the Iraq dossier to justify the U.K.’s involvement in the American-led invasion of Iraq.

This, insisted Campbell, was “a manifestly inadequate piece of journalism.”

The BBC maintains the story was accurate.

(Steve Clarke in London contributed to this report.)

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