Sunday, July 30, 2006

Israelis still killing

More Than 50 Killed in Israeli Airstrike

By Edward Cody, Robin Wright and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 30, 2006; 8:28 AM

BEIRUT, July 30 -- In an attack that the Israeli military said was aimed at destroying Hezbollah rocket launchers, Israeli warplanes blasted a group of buildings in a southern Lebanese village Sunday, killing more than 50 people, most of them women and children, according to Lebanese officials and on-scene interviews by Lebanese television reporters.

Coming at a particularly sensitive point in negotiations to end the conflict, the attack on the village seemed to throw the painstaking process of building toward an agreement into turmoil. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said he would not hold talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice until a ceasefire is called.

"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," Siniora told a news conference in Beirut.

Rice said told reporters in Jerusalem Sunday that she had called Siniora to delay her planned visit to Beirut in light of events. She was in Jerusalem conferring with Israeli officials, maintaining her insistence that calls for a cease-fire in Europe and the Arab world are premature until a sustainable settlement can be worked out.

"In the wake of the tragedy that the people and the government of Lebanon are dealing with today, I have decided to postpone my discussions in Beirut," Rice said. "In any case, my work is here today."

With her diplomatic mission now made even more difficult by the Qana attack, Rice said she remains committed to working with the parties. "I am here in pretty difficult and dicey circumstances because I do believe that it is better to try and address these issues face to face with the parties," she said.

The village that was hit, Qana, lies about 15 miles inland from Tyre, in the rocky border hills where Hezbollah, a militant Shiite Muslim movement, has earned widespread support among the largely Shiite population. Qana was the site of another attack by Israeli missile fire 10 years ago that killed 106 civilians at an U.N. observer post during an earlier round of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

In response to reports about the strike on Qana Sunday, a spokeswoman for Israel's military said the target was a site used to launch rockets into Israel and blamed the deaths on Hezbollah.

"These areas south of Tyre are areas from where scores of rockets were launched toward northern Israel, especially Nahariya and the Western Galilee," she said. "All villagers from these places were warned, days in advance, to vacate area, through leaflets, media alerts and in some cases telephone calls. The sole responsibility for fighting in these populated places rests with Hezbollah, which chooses to fight from these areas."

The initial death toll Sunday was put at 55, but foreign and Lebanese journalists on the scene said bodies were still being dragged out from under the rubble and the count was likely to rise. Lebanese Television stations showed rescue workers in orange vests probing collapsed buildings and lining up bodies in the wreckage-strewn streets.

"The victims all seem to be civilians, women and children," said one rescue worker.

An estimated 10,000 protesters gathered in front of the United Nations building next to Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square and shouted their rage over the Qana bombing and U.S. support for Israel, demanding that U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman be expelled.

Some of the protesters burst through the ground floor of the building, damaging windows and fixtures. But Nabi Berri, head of the Shiite Muslim Amal party and parliament speaker, called on them not to damage the building and the demonstrators surged away.

Hussein Hajj Hassan, a Hezbollah parliament member, told the protesters Rice should not be allowed into Lebanon again, adding, "she's persona non grata here."

Rice had been expected in Beirut Sunday to continue her consultations with Siniora in preparation for more negotiations at the United Nations. The talks were designed to produce a Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire and the dispatch of an international peacekeeping force to the embattled border region.

Siniora's government and other Lebanese political factions have been calling for an immediate cease-fire since the conflict began July 12 after a Hezbollah raid into northern Israeli during which two Israeli soldiers were captured and eight were slain. But Israel, backed by the Bush administration, has refused to stop its attacks until a permanent solution to the border confrontation is arranged.

In the meantime, Hezbollah has continued to fire rockets into northern Israeli communities and Israel has continued its air campaign against Hezbollah positions scattered around southern Lebanon, with civilians the overwhelming majority of the victims.

The U.S. stand has produced widespread resentment in the Arab world, particularly in Lebanon. Clovis Maksoud, a well known Lebanese analyst, wrote on the front page of Sunday's An Nahar newspaper in Beirut that Rice's expected arrival here was "a mix of visit and running around." He suggested it was designed as a display of U.S. concern while in fact the Bush administration agrees with Israel that the attacks must continue until Hezbollah's militia forces are more severely degraded.

Siniora declared that the Qana bombing was a "heinous crime" committed by "Israeli war criminals" and that a cease-fire is the only thing he was willing to talk about when Rice comes here. At the news conference, he spoke in English to emphasize that his message was addressed to the Bush administration.

In a sign that Rice's push for a peace agreement could meet even further delays, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said before a meeting with his cabinet Sunday that Israel "is not rushing into a ceasefire before we reach a situation in which we can say that we have achieved the main goals that we set for ourselves."

Olmert has previously said the goals of the military operation, which began nearly three weeks ago, were to severely weaken Hezbollah's military capabilities, stop rocket attacks on northern Israel and secure the release of two soldiers taken captive by the militant group in a cross-border raid earlier this month.

A ceasefire would also require "the maturation of the diplomatic process and reaching a detailed agreement regarding the stationing of forces that will secure the areas from which Israel has been endangered during this period," he said, referring to a proposed international force to police a buffer zone between the two countries. Israel has said it would accept the deployment of NATO forces after its military goals are achieved, but not those provided through the United Nations.

The Qana attack sparked widespread international condemnation of both Israel and the United States. Jordan's King Abdullah charged that Israel's action was "criminal aggression" and an "ugly crime . . . that is a gross violation of all international statues," the Reuters news service reported.

In Paris, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was critical of the Bush administration for not demanding an immediate end to the hostilities. He acknowledged "deep differences" divide the United States and France about resolving the conflict between the Lebanese Shiite militia and Israel. The office of President Jacque Chirac said in a statement: "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."

In Cairo, Egypt expressed its "profound alarm" and charged that Israel was "irresponsible" in its attack on Qana. Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel. In a statement, President Hosni Mubarak said: "Egypt expresses its profound alarm and its condemnation of the irresponsible Israeli bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana, which resulted in innocent casualties, mostly women and children."

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett called the Israeli strike on Qana "quite appalling."

"It's absolutely dreadful, it's quite appalling," she told Sky News. "We have repeatedly urged Israel to act proportionately."

Geir Petersen, the personal representative of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in Lebanon, said he was "deeply shocked and saddened by the killing of tens of Lebanese civilians including many children in Qana," a statement said, Reuters reported.

Wright and Finer reported from Jerusalem.


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