SAN FRANCISCO - Lebanon marked a national day of mourning Monday, a day after Israeli warplanes bombed the village of Qana killing at least 57 people, most of them children.
According to reporters at the scene, an Israeli missile hit a three-story building where relatives from two extended families were seeking refuge. There were only eight survivors. The youngest of the dead was 10 months old. The oldest was 95. One person was in a wheelchair. No weapons were found in the building that was hit.
The attack brought the number of Lebanese deaths to over 750, most of them civilians, since Israel began its strikes in mid-July in response to the kidnapping of two soldiers. A total of 51 Israelis, 18 of them civilians, have been killed.
Lebanese protesters burn an Israeli and a U.S. flag during a protest, in the port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Monday, July 31, 2006, against the Israeli strike that levelled a house in Qana Sunday, killing at least 56 people, mostly women and children, who had taken refuge there. It was the deadliest single strike in the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon, aimed at reigning in the Hezbollah guerrillas who sparked the conflict July 12 by snatching two Israeli soldiers. Some 519 people have been confirmed killed by Lebanon's Health Ministry since the fighting began. (AP Photo)
The Israeli government defended the bombing saying the village had become a "safe haven" for militants attacking Israel. Ahead of the bombing raid, the Israeli military dropped leaflets, urging all residents to leave.
"In Qana we attacked rocket-launching sites from where rockets have been fired toward Nahariya and toward the Galilee," Army spokesman Jacob Dalal told Agence France Press, referring to towns in northern Israel. He said the Israeli army had warned residents "for several days" that they should leave the area and "most of them have done so."
In a nationally televised address Monday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed regret for the deaths but did not apologize.
"I am sorry from bottom of heart for all deaths of children or women in Qana," Olmert said. "We did not search them out...they were not our enemies and we did not look for them."
But some observers say the severity of the Israeli bombing campaign makes any warning given to civilians irrelevant.
"Notifying people they are about to be killed doesn't give Israel the right to kill them," said the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies' Phyllis Bennis, a foreign policy analyst and author of the book Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy U.S. Power.
In addition, Bennis said, the Israeli military has "been attacking the roads on which people are trying to flee. One of the survivors of this Qana massacre said explicitly that they were afraid to leave because they have seen too many bombed out shells of cars and trucks out of Qana after Israel dropped flyers telling everyone to leave. So it was certainly not safe to do so."
Last weekend's massacre at Qana was not the first time an Israeli bombing there caused outrage from the international community.
Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists raised alarm after 23-year-old freelance photographer Layal Najib was killed by shrapnel from a missile on the road between the southern Lebanese villages of Sadiqeen and Qana. At the time, she was trying to meet up with a convoy of villagers fleeing the Israeli bombardment.
Even before the fighting broke out two weeks ago, the word Qana was synonymous with the killing of civilians. A decade ago, in an eerily similar attack, Israel shelled a United Nations post where refugees were taking shelter. More than 106 people died in that attack.
In a speech to the diplomatic corps, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora accused Israel of war crimes and asked: "Why, we wonder, did they choose Qana yet again?"
The 1996 attack caused international outrage and prompted the United States to enter into eight days of shuttle diplomacy that brought about a ceasefire. This time, the United States has solidly backed Israel's military incursion.
"This is a very strategic effort by the United States and Israel," Bennis said. "The Bush Administration seized the Israeli strategy which is to create a scene of unchallengable Israeli control of the region. All resistance--whether from Hamas, from Hezbollah, from Syria, or from anyone who might dare to challenge Israeli domination on the regional level or U.S. dominance on the global level--is not to be allowed to exist."
Along those lines, at the United Nations Monday, the United States scuttled a plan backed by France and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan that called for the "immediate suspension of offensive actions from both sides" and the "immediate cessation of hostilities.
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