20 fleeing Lebanese villagers killed by Israeli missile

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Twenty Lebanese civilians from the village of Marwaheen died when the van they were travelling in was hit by an Israeli missile Saturday.

According to medical sources, half of the deceased were children or teenagers who belonged to two families, the Abdallahs and the Ghanems. It was the deadliest single strike since Israel launched a military campaign in response to Hezbollah's alleged kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.

The people who died were fleeing their village in accordance with an Israeli announcement. Around 100 civilians tried to seek refuge at a nearby base of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) seeking shelter, but went home after officials were unable to confirm the warning by Israel, UNIFIL spokesman Milos Strugar told Reuters.

Those trying to leave were killed in the missile strike. When U.N. peacekeepers retrieved the remains of one Lebanese child who died, they could see his two charred hands still holding the bread of a sandwich, which he had apparently been eating when the Israeli missile killed him, to his chest.

Relatives of the victims were angered with U.N. forces over the deaths, pelting peacekeepers with stones when they arrived with the bodies after the missile strike. Mohammed Oqla, who was at the hospital, said, "If they had taken people in to begin with then they would never have died."

Israel fired on the vehicle as part of their widened offensive in Lebanon, responding to Hezbollah's attacks on Israel on Wednesday.

Israel apologizes

Israel has since apologized for the incident.

"Regarding civilian casualties in the area of Tyre, Lebanon, today Saturday 15/07/2006 17:43

The Israel Air Force targeted an area near the city of Tyre, in southern Lebanon, used as launching grounds for missiles fired by Hezbollah terror organization at Israel.

The IDF regrets civilian casualties while targeting the missile launching area.

Responsibility for endangering civilian population rests on the Hezbollah terror organization which operates and launches missiles at Israel from populated civilian areas.

In the last 72 hours the Hezbollah terror organization has launched hundreds of rockets indiscriminately at Israeli cities putting over a million Israeli citizens within the range of missile fire.

The IDF makes every effort to keep civilians out of harm's way as we continue to defend the citizens of the state of Israel."

This audio file was created from the text revision dated 2006-07-16 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)