QANA, Lebanon, 31 July 2006 — At least 56 people, more than half children, were killed yesterday in an Israeli airstrike that crushed a building, the deadliest attack of the Israeli campaign, raising Lebanon’s overall death toll to over 500. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returned early to Washington with her diplomatic mission derailed after Lebanese leaders told her not to come.
Lebanon’s prime minister said his country would not talk to the Americans over anything but an unconditional cease-fire. Rice, in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli officials, said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life” but stopped short of calling for an immediate end to the hostilities.
However, she made one of her strongest statements yet saying: “We want a cease-fire as soon as possible.”
The United States has resisted world pressure to call for a halt to the fighting, saying it wants first to ensure a deal is in place that will eliminate Hezbollah fighters from Israel’s border and bring an international force to southern Lebanon.
The missiles struck just after 1 a.m., leveling a three-story building in Qana where two extended families, the Shalhoubs and Hashims, had taken refuge in the basement from heavy Israeli bombardment in the area. Throughout the day, rescue workers were digging through the rubble, lifting out bodies dressed in colorful clothes of women and children. At one point they found a single room with 18 bodies, police said.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah pledged Riyadh’s full support to Lebanon in the face of Israeli aggression. He also backed Beirut’s position of not holding any negotiations with Israel before the Jewish state agrees to an unconditional cease-fire.
“During a telephone conversation, Siniora briefed the king on the developments in Lebanon, especially the brutal Qana massacre carried out by Israel yesterday which killed tens of innocent people,” the Saudi Press Agency said. Abdullah also supported Siniora’s call for an international investigation into Israeli massacres in Lebanon.
“King Abdullah reiterated the Kingdom’s support for Lebanon and said his country would stand by Lebanon in all situations,” the official agency said.
The Saudi leader later met with his Jordanian counterpart, King Abdallah, in Jeddah and denounced the deaths and destructions caused by Israel in both Palestine and Lebanon. The two Arab leaders called for an end to Israeli aggression.
An official spokesman, meanwhile, denounced the Israeli massacre.
“Saudi Arabia is calling for an immediate cease-fire as well as responding to the demands of the Lebanese government,” the official said.
He also warned against the consequences of Israeli aggression, saying it would increase violence and run out of control.
The Saudi spokesman said Israel dared to attack Lebanon as a result of the failure of the international community to bring about a cease-fire and because of the moral, political and material support received by the Jewish state.
“Why are they killing us? What have we done?” screamed Khalil Shahloub, who was helping pull out the dead until he saw his brother’s body taken out on a stretcher. The dead included at least 34 children and 12 adult women, security officials said.
Israel said Hezbollah had fired rockets from near the building into northern Israel.
Some 5,000 protesters gathered in downtown Beirut, at one point attacking a UN building and burning American flags, shouting, “Destroy Tel Aviv, destroy Tel Aviv” and chanting for Hezbollah’s ally Syria to hit Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel “is not in a hurry to have a cease-fire” before it achieves its goals of decimating Hezbollah.
He told Rice that Israel would need 10 to 14 more days to finish its offensive, according to a senior Israeli government official.
“We will not stop this battle, despite the difficult incidents this morning,” Olmert told his Cabinet after the strike, according to a participant. “We will continue the activity and if necessary it will be broadened without hesitation.”
The Lebanese government this week had been putting forward ideas on disarming Hezbollah and deploying an international force in the south. But after the strike, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said any negotiations on a broader deal were off.
“We will not negotiate until the Israeli war stops shedding the blood of innocent people,” he told a press conference. He said the Lebanese government still supported the ideas it offered this week, but would not discuss them without a stop in fighting.
Rice was in Jerusalem meeting Israeli leaders, and Siniora’s office said he told Rice not to come to Beirut. Rice disputed that version, telling reporters, “I called him and told him that I was not coming today, because I felt very strongly that my work toward a cease-fire is really here, today.” A US official later said she had decided to return home today morning to work on a UN Security Council resolution.
The carnage fueled global outrage. International reaction was swift and generally scathing. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s personal representative in Lebanon was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the civilian deaths, and called for an immediate cease-fire and an investigation, a UN statement said. Hezbollah vowed to punish Israel for the carnage. “This horrible massacre, like the others, will not remain unpunished,” the group said in a statement.
Regional leaders including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the attack was inexcusable and “irresponsible.” Jordan’s King Abdallah denounced it as “criminal aggression.” The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) blasted what it called a “war crime” by Israel.
The United Arab Emirates condemned what it described as an “ugly massacre,” and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was a “crime” that underlined the need for an immediate cease-fire in the region. Echoing Hezbollah’s warning of retaliation, Palestinian group Hamas said “all options were open” against Israel which had “crossed all red lines” with its attack on Qana.
The armed wing of Abbas’ Fatah faction said it would target the United States and other Western countries in retaliation. The Iranian regime, which is accused of supplying Hezbollah with rockets to attack Israel from Lebanon, blamed Rice for the Qana attack, saying it was the direct result of her visit to the region. It called for American and Israeli leaders to be put on trial for “crimes against humanity.”
Turkey, India and Pakistan added their voices to the condemnations of the raid. In Europe, Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it was “shocked and dismayed” by the strikes on Qana. “There is no justification for attacks causing casualties among innocent civilians, most of them women and children,” it said in a statement, echoing condemnations from Scandinavian and other European countries.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett described the Qana raids as “quite appalling” and said Britain had “repeatedly urged the Israelis to act proportionately.”
German Foreign Minister Franck Walter Steinmeier expressed “profound pity” for the victims of the bombing. He called on Israel to observe “proportion” in its attacks and avoid civilian casualties, and reiterated calls for a swift cease-fire.
French President Jacques Chirac condemned the bombardment as an “unjustifiable action which shows more than ever the need to agree on an immediate cease-fire.”
Spain joined in condemning the Israeli action and the governments of Italy and Ireland also expressed their consternation. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana said nothing could justify the Qana bombing, adding that the EU backed an “immediate cease-fire.” Israel said its Defense Minister Amir Peretz had ordered the army to investigate the Qana raid.
Lebanon’s Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh yesterday put at 750 the death toll in the country after 19 days of Israeli attacks.
In April 1996 more than 100 Lebanese civilians were killed in Qana in the hills east of the port city of Tyre, in an Israeli artillery shelling of a UN base. The civilians had sought refuge with the UN to escape Israeli bombardment and the attack sparked an international outcry that helped end an Israeli offensive.
Meanwhile, Israel launched its second ground incursion into southern Lebanon. Before dawn yesterday, Israeli forces backed by heavy artillery fire crossed the border and clashed with Hezbollah fighters in the Taibeh Project area, some three or four kilometers (1.8 to 2.5 miles) inside Lebanon. Hezbollah said eight Israeli soldiers were killed, while the Israeli Army said only that one of its soldiers had been moderately wounded.
Heavy artillery rained down on the nearby villages of Yuhmor and Arnoun as Israeli jets were seen in the skies overhead. The incursion came after Israeli forces pulled back Saturday from Bint Jbeil launched a week ago. The incursion sparked heavy fighting with Hezbollah fighters, who put up a tougher resistance than expected and appeared to still be in the area after the pullback.
The United Nations World Food Program canceled an aid convoy’s trip to the embattled south, after the Israeli military denied safe passage, the group said in a statement. The six-truck convoy had been scheduled to bring relief supplies to Marjayoun.
Lebanese civilians have suffered the most from the fighting, which broke out after Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid July 12 and killed eight others. Some 458 Lebanese were killed in the fighting through Saturday — before the attacks on Qana. Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel have killed 18 civilians, Israeli authorities said, correcting earlier reports of 19 civilian dead. More than 750,000 Lebanese have fled their homes in the fighting. But many thousands more are still believed holed up in the south, taking refuge in schools, hospitals or basements of apartment buildings amid the fighting — many of them too afraid to flee on roads heavily hit by Israeli strikes.
In Qana, Khalil Shalhoub and several other residents said people were simply too terrified to take the road out of the village, which has been attacked repeatedly by rockets and bombs. Charred wreckage and smashed buildings line the roughly 12-kilometer road from Qana to Tyre, where a small amount of humanitarian supplies had arrived. European ships had picked up foreign citizens from Tyre’s port, but there were no evacuations of Lebanese.
On Thursday, the Israeli military’s Al-Mashriq radio that broadcasts into southern Lebanon warned residents that their villages would be “totally destroyed” if missiles are fired from them. Leaflets with similar messages were dropped in some areas Saturday.
A senior official in the Israeli Air Force said the village had been warned “several times” that it would be attacked because “hundreds of rockets have been fired from inside the village in the past two weeks, from the backyards, from the squares ... from as close as 50 to 60 meters from this building.”
The official said Hezbollah fighters often fire near buildings then use those buildings as cover but that he did not know if that was the case this time. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr disputed allegations that Hezbollah was firing missiles from Qana. “What do you expect Israel to say? Will it say that it killed 40 children and women?” he told Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV station.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Israel Massacres Kids
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