Sunday, July 30, 2006

Outrage as 52 killed in Israel strike on Qana

Yahoo! News
Outrage as 52 killed in Israel strike on Qana

by Charles Levinson

Fifty-two people have killed, more than half of them children, in an Israeli air blitz on the Lebanese village of Qana, triggering outrage around the world and warnings of retribution for Israel's "war crime."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose latest Middle East mission was thrown into turmoil by the attack, she was "deeply saddened" by the loss of innocent lives and said it was time to "get to a ceasefire" in Lebanon but stopped short of calling for an immediate halt to hostilities on Sunday.

The raid on Qana, which left homes in ruins and villagers trapped under the rubble, was the deadliest single attack since Israel launched its devastating war on the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah 19 days ago.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora denounced the Qana carnage as a "war crime," demanding an immediate ceasefire in a conflict that Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh said had killed 750 people.

An AFP count has put the death toll at more than 500, while the United Nations has said around one third of the casualties were children.

The 15-member UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting on the conflict later Sunday, with France circulating a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Israel expressed "regret" over the civilian deaths and ordered an inquiry but said it had warned residents to leave and pinned the blame on Hezbollah for launching rockets from the village.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was in "no rush" for a truce and told Rice that Israel needed 10 to 14 days more to continue its offensive against the Hezbollah, an Israeli government official said.

In Beirut, a mob of angry demonstrators smashed into the UN building as thousands took to the streets in protest while Hezbollah and the ruling Palestinian Islamist militant movement Hamas both vowed revenge.

"This horrible massacre, like the others, will not remain unpunished," said Hezbollah, which has fired off waves of rockets against northern Israel since the onslaught began.

In Qana -- scene of another deadly bombardment 10 years ago -- rescue workers with only their bare hands clawed through rubble of flattened homes and an underground shelter to find survivors while mothers hugged their dead children in a final hopeless embrace.

Police put the death toll at at least 52 including 30 children.

"The bombing was so intense that no-one could move," said a distraught Ibrahim Shalhoub, 26. "I succeeded in getting out and everything collapsed. I have several members of the family inside and I do not think that there will be any other survivors."

Israel, which has received staunch US backing since the conflict began on July 12, unleashed its firepower on Qana after flatly rejecting a UN call for a 72-hour truce to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to Lebanon.

Siniora ruled out any talks on putting an end to the conflict until there was an immediate halt to Israel's offensive, signalling the likely failure of Rice's efforts to win support on both sides for the deployment of an international force in Lebanon.

"There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," he told reporters.

Rice, on her second trip to the region in less than a week, refrained again from calling for an immediate truce after talks in Israel and a trip to Lebanon was cancelled.

"I think what it is time to do is get to a ceasefire, we actually have to put one in place," she said. "We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, I would have wanted a ceasefire yesterday if possible, but the parties have to agree to a ceasefire and there have to be certain conditions in place."

A US official said she would return home to Washington on Monday to start intensive diplomacy aimed at reaching a UN resolution on the conflict.

Reaction to the Qana carnage was fierce across the Arab world, and even Britain, Washington's closest ally, branded the Qana attack as "quite appalling."

The United Nations condemned the strike, while European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said "nothing can justify" the deadly bombardment and Syria, Lebanon's former powerbroker, described it as "state terrorism."

The village, said by some to be where Jesus turned water into wine, was the site of an Israeli bombing of a UN base in April 1996 that killed 105 people during Israel's "Grapes of Wrath" offensive -- also aimed at wiping out Hezbollah.

Dozens of other villages around the southern port city of Tyre were also bombarded with fire from the Israeli navy, air force and artillery. Israeli planes also tore up the Masnaa border crossing into Syria, leading to the closure of the main Damascus-Beirut route.

Israeli ground troops also launched a new cross-border incursion and were engaged in fierce battles with Hezbollah guerrillas on the outskirts of the southeastern village of Taibe.

About 30 rockets fired from south Lebanon landed across towns in northern Israel, without causing any injuries, police said.

The attacks came after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to strike cities in the centre of Israel if the Jewish state continued to attack civilians in Lebanon.

Israel's war on the Shiite Muslim Party of God has triggered the deadliest cross-border fighting in a quarter century, made hundreds of thousands homeless and laid waste to much of Lebanon's infrastructure.

The Jewish state has lost a total of 51 people since it launched the offensive following the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah on July 12, many of them soldiers killed in combat.

Israel has mobilised thousands of army reservists and says it plans to create a narrow buffer zone in Lebanon until the mooted international force is deployed -- but has ruled out another occupation of its northern neighbour.

Last week nine soldiers died in fighting around the key border town of Bint Jbeil in its biggest single-day death toll of the conflict, facing tougher-than-expected resistance despite its military superiority.

On Friday the Israeli military claimed to have hit a launch pad it suspected was used to fire a new type of missile that hit Afula, 50 kilometres (35 miles) south of the border, the deepest strike into Israel since the warring began.

US President George W. Bush had called Saturday for militias in Lebanon to be disarmed and for Lebanese security services to be deployed across the country, including the Hezbollah-controlled south.

Two Indian UN peacekeepers were wounded on Saturday in an Israeli air raid on their post in south Lebanon. Four UN military observers were killed last week in an Israeli strike on their observation post.

With 800,000 Lebanese displaced by the fighting, the International Committee of the Red Cross has criticised the "unacceptable" humanitarian situation and said Israel had to do much more to spare civilians.

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