Israel Moves to Suspend Air Attacks for 2 Days After Strike in Lebanese Village Kills 57 Civilians

Thousands of Lebanese youths, many of them supporters of Hezbollah, smash glass at the entrance to the U.N. headquarters in Beirut. They protested hours before the U.N. Security Council called for an end to the violence in Lebanon.
Thousands of Lebanese youths, many of them supporters of Hezbollah, smash glass at the entrance to the U.N. headquarters in Beirut. They protested hours before the U.N. Security Council called for an end to the violence in Lebanon. (By Ben Curtis -- Associated Press)

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By Edward Cody and Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 31, 2006

BEIRUT, July 31 -- Israeli warplanes hunting Hezbollah rocket launchers in southern Lebanon on Sunday killed at least 57 civilians, most of them children, huddled inside a three-story building in a small village. In response, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared set to abandon diplomacy in the region and said she would return to Washington on Monday. But after an intense day of negotiations in Jerusalem, Israel agreed to suspend air attacks on southern Lebanon for 48 hours.

[Rice told reporters early Monday morning that she would soon seek a U.N. resolution that would bring a cease-fire. "This morning as I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent cease-fire and a lasting settlement," Rice said. "I am convinced we can achieve both this week."]

The attack on the small Lebanese village of Qana was the bloodiest single incident in 19 days of warfare between Israel and Hezbollah. Among the dead were 37 children and a large number of women, according to the Lebanese health minister. Hezbollah, the radical Shiite Muslim movement, vowed revenge, and more than 150 rockets slammed into northern Israel, wounding at least five people. It was the highest number of rockets fired at Israel since the conflict began.

The announcement of a pause in airstrikes was made after midnight by State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli to reporters traveling with Rice. It fell short of the full cease-fire many world leaders had sought. The suspension will not apply to other parts of Lebanon, nor diminish ground operations underway along the Israeli-Lebanese border. [Israel launched airstrikes in eastern Lebanon overnight, but the raids occurred before the 2 a.m. start of a 48-hour suspension of aerial bombardments in the south, an Israeli military spokeswoman said Monday. Earlier, Lebanese security sources said that at least two Israel airstrikes hit roads near the Lebanese border with Syria after the suspension went into effect, the Reuters news agency reported.]

The two-day pause, which will include a 24-hour window for relief organizations to deliver supplies and allow residents to leave southern Lebanon, could be jeopardized if Hezbollah continues firing rockets or Israel detects an imminent launch, a U.S. official said.

"This is an issue that we have been working for some time and calling for for some time," Ereli said. "We expect that Israel will implement these decisions so as to significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid."

After news of the attack broke Sunday morning, angry Lebanese leaders said they told Rice -- who had arrived in Jerusalem a day earlier to negotiate a settlement -- not to visit Beirut as planned. Rice said she had canceled the trip in light of the day's events.

Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet he was "deeply sorry" for the civilian deaths. But Olmert said, "Israel is not rushing into a cease-fire before we reach a situation in which we can say that we have achieved the main goals that we set for ourselves." According to a senior Israeli official in attendance, Olmert added, "We won't stop this campaign despite this morning's tragic events. We will continue despite it not being popular."

Olmert had told Rice he expected Israel's assault on Hezbollah to continue for 10 days to two weeks. Aides said Rice will now turn to a U.N. Security Council resolution. The United States is seeking a resolution endorsing a package Rice has been preparing during her travels to Israel, Lebanon and Rome. A key provision would seek Lebanese government agreement to disarm Hezbollah.

The U.S. package also calls for creating an international force of at least 10,000 troops to deploy in Lebanon to back up the government and beef up the army. It would help secure the south and the country's borders, airport and port to ensure Hezbollah is unable to rearm. Rice has repeatedly said her goal is a "sustainable" cease-fire to ensure tensions are not triggered again.

Olmert told Rice that at least 10,000 combat-ready foreign troops should be stationed along the border and in southern Beirut, according to the senior Israeli official.

Also Sunday, eight Israeli soldiers were wounded as troops and tanks made a new incursion into southern Lebanon. Four were on foot near the village of Taiba and four were in a tank that was hit by a missile north of the Israeli town of Metula, an army spokesman said. Three Hezbollah fighters were killed, the Reuters news agency reported.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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