BBC chief holds peace talks in Jerusalem with Ariel Sharon

 

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The Independent Online

The BBC is often accused of an anti-Israeli bias in its coverage of the Middle East, and recently censured reporter Barbara Plett for saying she "started to cry" when Yasser Arafat left Palestine shortly before his death.

Fascinating, then, to learn that its director general, Mark Thompson, has recently returned from Jerusalem, where he held a face-to-face meeting with the hardine Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Although the diplomatic visit was not publicised on these shores, it has been seized upon in Israel as evidence that Thompson, who took office in 2004, intends to build bridges with the country's political class.

Sources at the Beeb also suspect that it heralds a "softening" to the corporation's unofficial editorial line on the Middle East.

"This was the first visit of its kind by any serving director general, so it's clearly a significant development," I'm told.

"Not many people know this, but Mark is actually a deeply religious man. He's a Catholic, but his wife is Jewish, and he has a far greater regard for the Israeli cause than some of his predecessors."

Understandably, an official BBC spokesman was anxious to downplay talk of an exclusively pro-Israeli charm offensive.

Apopros this month's previously undocumented trip, he stressed that Thompson had also held talks with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

* The supermodel Lily Cole is back in the firing line over her job as the "face" of the diamond firm, De Beers.

Today, the pressure group Survival International is flying two Kalahari bushmen to London as part of their campaign against De Beers' mining practices in Botswana.

Although they have formally requested a meeting with Cole, her agency, Storm Models is refusing to play ball.

"Lily is at school, immersed in her studies, and it's also the peak of our season" reads the agency's. "So we haven't (got) the time to catch up."

That hasn't cut much ice with Survival. "We're in town all week, and would be quite happy to bring the Bushmen to Lily at school," they say.

"It's funny how often she seems to have spare time when a lucrative modelling assignment comes along."

Last night, De Beers launched its new range at a bash sponsored by Peroni lager. No doubt Miss Cole was busy withher homework.

* This column hasn't always been helpful to Hugh Dancy, a rising star of British film. Last year, I asked his agent, Ciara Parkes, about rumours that they'd been spotted "canoodling" at a show- business party.

She strongly denied any romance, while Dancy added witheringly: "I've just spent several months in central Africa. Why don't you go and write that I'm having an affair with a gorilla?"

Happily, Dancy's prepared to forgive and forget. At the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday, he even decided to place a bet for me on the final race, by way of a peace gesture.

The horse, Manorson, romped home at 7/1. Dancy - unable to get another bet on for himself - sacrificed several hundred English pounds. What a gent!

* There have been few sterner critics of the fluffy bunny brigade than former "fat lady" Clarissa Dickson-Wright. But has the pro-hunting pin-up girl effected a remarkable volte-face?

Her new book, A Greener Life, is dedicated to: "Tom Tibbitts, energy spokesman for the Green Party, for showing us all the way."

It also praises Labour's agricultural policies for helping to "put the countryside back to how it was" before the Second World War.

Since the Greens are opposed to huntin', shootin' and fishing, some reckon this a U-Turn. But CD-W claims otherwise.

"Tom criticised the Greens' anti-hunting policy at their last conference," she says. "As for Defra, credit where credit's due. They won't get a lot from me: I'm wearing a 'Bollocks to Blair' badge as we speak."

* If you thought Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour might have called time on their long-running feud, think again.

The Pink Floyd stars reunited for Live8, suggesting that they'd finally buried the hatchet, after barely speaking since Waters quit the band during the early 1980s.

Sadly, they are now back to disagreeing over the band's future. "I'd be very up for doing a lot more (Pink Floyd gigs)," said Waters in a radio interview yesterday. "It was such fun. The moment we plugged in for our first rehearsal, it was like putting on an old shoe."

Gilmour plays to a different tune. "We've all moved on," he said earlier this month. "There are a lot of other things to be thrilled about these days."

A full-blown re-union tour would earn about £140m. Perhaps Gilmour will come round to the idea in time.

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