ICRC: 28 bodies, 19 children, pulled from rubble after Israeli airstrike, Qana

Sunday, July 30, 2006

In the deadliest single incident in the ongoing Israel-Hezbollah conflict, an Israeli air strike apparently demolished a three-story building in the village of Qana in southern Lebanon, and according to the Red Cross, killed at least 28 displaced civilians, including 19 children, most of whom handicapped or mentally ill, who were sheltering there. The Lebanese police reported at least 56 fatalities, including 37 children.

One rescue worker said "The victims all seem to be civilians, women and children". Abu Shadi Jradi, a civil defence official, said the bodies of at least 27 children were found in the rubble. A few wounded men had been evacuated to ambulances in the aftermath, as seen on CNN and FoxNews footage.

Villager Mohammed Ismail said "We want this to stop. May God have mercy on the children. They came here to escape the fighting. They are hitting children to bring the fighters to their knees."

Jim Muir, a BBC correspondent, said "The three storey building where families have been sheltering in the basement was crushed sideways into an enormous crater by the Israeli bomb strike". He added "Elsewhere in Qana and along the road up from Tyre, many buildings had been similarly crushed."

About nine out of ten residents are estimated to have left Qana, which has been heavily bombarded by Israeli forces in the current conflict. Those without cars, petrol and other means to leave are left behind. According to Jim Muir who had travelled to Qana along the road from Tyre, the route had been pitted with bomb craters.

Later, Israel agreed to a 48-hour halt in military activities while it investigated the bombing of Qana, while claiming there had been no direct attack on the building at the time of collapse. However, the Israeli military said it would launch counterattacks in Lebanon if Hezbollah fired more rockets at Israel in the 48-hour period.

Lebanese reactions

Anger spread across Lebanon and the Arab world, several thousand Shiite Muslim protesters gathered in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut and some smashed their way into the building. The protesters chanted "Death to Israel, Death to America".

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora called it Israel's "heinous crimes against civilians", and called off a scheduled meeting with US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice saying "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."

The Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr commented on the Israeli statement on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV station, "What do you expect Israel to say? Will it say that it killed 40 children and women?"

Israeli reactions

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed "deep regret" for the air strike, but said Israel would not declare a cease-fire until it had reached the targets it had set at the beginning of the war. Olmert, responding to harsh international criticism on the strike, said that Hezbollah had used Qana as a base for launching hundreds of rockets at Israel.

A senior air force commander said Israel had dropped a bomb on the building in Qana on the assumption it was sheltering Hezbollah crews and was unaware civilians were there. The commander said "Had we known there were that many civilians inside, especially woman and children, we certainly would not have attacked it".

According to the Israeli military, the building collapsed eight hours after the attack.

Brigadier General Amir Eshel, Head of the Air Force Headquarters told journalists at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv "the attack on the structure in the Qana village took place between midnight and one in the morning. The gap between the timing of the collapse of the building and the time of the strike on it is unclear".

Eshel and the head of the IDF's Operational Branch, Major General Gadi Eisnkot said the structure was not being attacked when it collapsed, at around 8:00 in the morning.

The Israeli military believes that Hezbollah explosives in the building were behind the explosion that caused the collapse: "It's possible that inside the house, something or other was being stored that caused an explosion - something that we didn't succeed in blowing up in the attack and that perhaps was left over there," Brigadier General Eshel said. "I say this very cautiously, because I currently don't have the faintest idea what the explanation for this gap could be."

Eshel added that Hezbullah rocket launchers were hidden in civilian buildings in the village. He proceeded to show video footage of rocket launchers being driven into the village following launches.

Qana villagers refute IDF claims building fell hours after strike

Witnesses at the scene said that the strikes on the building was carried out around 1:00 A.M. After the first strike, some of the building's residents run out to survey the damage. A few minutes later, IAF planes struck the building once again, causing the walls to collapse on the residents who still remained inside, killing most of them them in the process. The building was located in the Hariva neighborhood of Qana.

Arab world reactions

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said "I think Israeli officials and some American ones should be tried for these sorts of crimes".

Hezbolla leader Hassan Nasrallah said "We will now rig up the fire and retalliate with a venegance. We will send rockets and death to the Zionist enemy, who will pay for this crime. We will hit the US and Britain for supporting this massacre".

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said "The massacre committed by Israel in Qana this morning shows the barbarity of this aggressive entity. It constitutes state terrorism committed in front of the eyes and ears of the world,"

The Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said "The Arab Republic of Egypt is highly disturbed and condemns the irresponsible Israeli attack on the Lebanese village of Qana, which led to the loss of innocent victims, most of which were women and children," a statement from the presidency said.

King Abdullah of Jordan said: "This criminal aggression is an ugly crime that has been committed by the Israeli forces in the city of Qana that is a gross violation of all international statutes."

Reactions from around the World

The French president Jacques Chirac, released a statement "The president learnt with concern about the act of violence which cost the lives of numerous innocent victims, notably women and children in Qana." "France condemns this unjustified action, which demonstrates more than ever the need for an immediate ceasefire without which there will only be other such incidents."

United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair has said the "tragedy" in Qana shows the situation in the Middle East "simply cannot continue".

Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Margaret Beckett, called the strikes "absolutely dreadful" and "quite appalling". She said "We have repeatedly urged Israel to act proportionately,"

Pope Benedict said "In the name of God, I call on all those responsible for this spiral of violence so that weapons are immediately laid down on all sides."

Potent symbol

Wikipedia has more about this subject:

Qana became a potent symbol of Lebanese civilian deaths by Israeli military bombings after an earlier incident in April 1996, when Israeli shelling killed more than 100 civilians sheltering at the base of U.N. peacekeepers in the village during Israel's "Grapes of Wrath" campaign.