Many Questions Surround Qana Bombing

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, July 31, 2006

Many Questions Surround Qana Bombing

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com ) - Images from southern Lebanon - television footage of dead children being pulled from the rubble of a bombed-out building -- show that Israel's military effort to stop unprovoked attacks on its own civilians and soldiers is working to the terrorists' advantage.

Fury erupted around the world on Sunday, particularly in Lebanon, after Israel bombed what it believed to be a missile-launching site in southern Lebanon -- but killed around 57 people, many of them children, in the process.

Overlooked in some of the media coverage was the fact that another150 rockets were launched at Israel's civilian population on Sunday.

Dozens of women and children died in the Lebanese village of Qana as they slept early Sunday morning.

In response to worldwide condemnation, Israel agreed to suspend its aerial activity over South Lebanon for two days.

"Israel has consented to suspend its aerial activities for 48 hours, with the exception of targets that shoot toward Israel or Israeli forces, in order to allow residents of southern Lebanon to leave their homes," an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying.

Israel had previously dropped leaflets warning civilians in southern Lebanese villages to leave the area immediately.

Outrage over the Israeli "massacre," as some critics called it, came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Israel for the second time in less than a week to try to bring a halt to war between Israel and the Hizballah terrorist organization.

In a statement on Monday, a shaken-looking Rice said there was an "emerging consensus" on the need for an "urgent ceasefire and a lasting settlement."

She said she believed both could be achieved this week.

Rice said the U.S. would turn to the U.N. Security Council this week for action on a three-part comprehensive settlement: "a ceasefire, the political principles that provide for a long-term settlement, and the authorization of an international force to support the Lebanese army in keeping the peace."

According to Rice, Lebanon, Israel and the international community agree that the Lebanese government must extend its authority over all its territory. She said an international "stabilization force" should be deployed to help Lebanon exert its authority; and she said armed groups should be prohibited from areas where the international force is deployed.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Sunday urged the international community to condemn the Israeli strike.

In response, the 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a presidential statement saying it "strongly deplores the loss of innocent life and the killing of civilians in the present conflict."

The Security Council expressed its "extreme shock and distress" at the shelling in Qana and called for an end to the violence, which Israel said Hizballah provoked by abducting two of its soldiers and raining missiles on its people.

President Bush said the U.S. would work with the U.N. to develop a resolution "that will enable the region to have a sustainable peace, a peace that lasts."

What happened?

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman called Qana a "hub of Hizballah" and expressed Israel's regrets for the deaths of so many civilians and children. Sunday, he said, was a "horrible, sad and bloody" day.

Nevertheless, Gillerman noted that although the civilians were killed by an Israeli shell, it was Hizballah who was using the women and children as human shields.

"Those people, including women and children who were killed in this horrible tragic incident, may have been killed by Israeli fire but they are the victims of Hizballah," said Gillerman. "They are the victims of terror. If there were no Hizballah, this would never have happened."

Gillerman urged the U.N. not to play into the hands of Hizballah -- "not to provide them with what they are seeking, while sacrificing their own people as human shields and as victims."

As far as Israel is concerned, "Every dead Lebanese child is a horrible mistake and a tragedy," Gillerman said. "For them [Hizballah], every dead Israeli child is a victory and a cause for celebration."

There are many questions surrounding the Israeli Air Force attack on the building in Qana.

The civilians apparently had been sleeping on the ground floor or basement of the apartment building, believing that they would be safe there.

Israel said it has repeatedly warned the residents of southern Lebanon to leave the area to avoid attacks targeting Hizballah.

On Sunday, the Israeli army released infrared aerial footage that it said showed Hizballah operatives firing rockets toward Israel from Qana. Israel said the trucks used to fire the rockets are being hidden in civilian homes in Qana.

Air Force Chief of Staff Brig-Gen. Amir Eshel said the building that Israel struck with missiles collapsed about seven hours after it was struck by Israeli jets. Eshel said something in the building might have caused the explosion.

He also said that about 150 rockets had been launched at Israel from Qana over the last 20 days.

Deja-vu?

Ten years ago, Israel was forced to suspend a military operation against Hizballah after Israeli artillery shells struck a U.N. building in Qana, killing more than 100 civilians who had sought refuge there.

That first attack made Qana a rallying cry for Israel's enemies, and the second attack, on Sunday, was like history repeating itself, some said.

Israel has said it needs another 10-14 days to finish what it has started in Lebanon.

On Monday, the army said that it was continuing with its ground offensive in Lebanon and it would carry out air strikes on "immediate threats" such as rocket launching cells, launchers or trucks transporting launchers.

According to a U.S. State Department statement on Sunday, Israel agreed to a 48-hour halt in aerial attacks over southern Lebanon to launch an investigation into the Qana attack.

"During this time, Israel will coordinate with the UN to allow a 24-hour period of safe passage for all residents of South Lebanon who wish to leave. Humanitarian convoys remain in effect. We expect that Israel will implement these decisions so as to significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

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