Israel agreed Sunday to halt air attacks on south Lebanon for 48 hours in the
face of widespread outrage over an airstrike that killed at least 56 Lebanese,
mostly women and children, when it leveled a building where they had taken
A rescue worker puts
the body of a dead girl on a gurney after Israeli air strikes on the
southern Lebanese village of Qana. Israel agreed to temporarily halt air
strikes in south Lebanon a day after 52 people were killed, many of them
sleeping children, when Israeli warplanes bombarded the Lebanese village
of Qana, triggering global outrage and warnings of retribution for alleged
The announcement of the pause in overflights, made by State Department
spokesman Adam Ereli appeared to reflect American pressure on Israel. Ereli, who
was in Israel with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said Israel reserved the
right to hit targets if it learns that attacks are being prepared against them.
An Israeli government official confirmed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to
a 48-hour halt in airstrikes on Lebanon. The official was speaking on condition
of anonymity since he was not authorized to talk to reporters,
The stunning bloodshed in Lebanon earlier on Sunday prompted Rice to cut
short her Mideast mission and intensified world demands on Washington to back an
immediate end to the fighting.
The attack in the village of Qana brought Lebanon's death toll to more than
510 and pushed American peace efforts to a crucial juncture, as fury at the
United States flared in Lebanon. The Beirut government said it would no longer
negotiate over a U.S. peace package without an unconditional cease-fire. U.N.
chief Kofi Annan sharply criticized world leaders, implicitly Washington for
ignoring his previous calls for a stop.
In Qana, workers pulled dirt-covered bodies of young boys and girls, dressed
in the shorts and T-shirts they had been sleeping in out of the mangled wreckage
of the three-story building. Bodies were carried in blankets.
Two extended families, the Shalhoubs and the Hashems, had gathered in the
house for shelter from another night of Israeli bombardment in the border area
when the 1 a.m. strike brought the building down.
"I was so afraid. There was dirt and rocks and I couldn't see. Everything was
black," said 13-year-old Noor Hashem, who survived, although her five siblings
did not. She was pulled out of the ruins by her uncle, whose wife and five
children also died.
Israel apologized for the deaths but blamed Hezbollah guerrillas, saying they
had fired rockets into northern Israel from near the building. Before Ereli's
announcement, Olmert said the campaign to crush Hezbollah would continue,
telling Rice it could last up to two weeks more.
"We will not stop this battle, despite the difficult incidents this morning,"
he told his Cabinet after the strike, according to a participant. "If necessary,
it will be broadened without hesitation."
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting to debate a resolution
demanding an immediate cease-fire, a step Washington has stood nearly alone at
the council in refusing until the disarmament of Hezbollah is assured.
In a jab at the United States, Annan told the council in unusually frank
terms that he was "deeply dismayed" his previous calls for a halt were ignored.
"Action is needed now before many more children, women and men become casualties
of a conflict over which they have no control," he said.
After news of the deaths emerged, Rice telephoned Lebanese Prime Minister
Fuad Saniora and said she would stay in Jerusalem to continue work on a peace
package, rather than make a planned Sunday visit to Beirut. Saniora said he told
her not to come.
Rice decided to cut her Mideast trip short and return to Washington on Monday
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who only days earlier gave his support to
the U.S. stance, struck a more urgent note Sunday, saying Washington must work
faster to put together the broader deal it seeks.
"We have to get this now. We have to speed this whole process up," Blair
said. "This has got to stop and stop on both sides."
But Saniora said talk of a larger peace package must wait until the firing
"We will not negotiate until the Israeli war stops shedding the blood of
innocent people," he told a gathering of foreign diplomats. But he underlined
that Lebanon stands by ideas for disarming Hezbollah that it put forward earlier
this week and that Rice praised.
He took a tough line and hinted that any Hezbollah response to the airstrike
at the village of Qana was justified.
"As long as the aggression continues there is response to be exercised," he
said, praising Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.
Hezbollah said on its Al-Manar television that it will retaliate.
"The massacre at Qana will not go unanswered," the group said.
The largest toll from a single Israeli strike in past weeks was around a
dozen and Sunday's dramatic deaths stunned Lebanese. Heightening the anger were
memories of a 1996 Israeli artillery bombardment that hit a U.N. base in Qana,
killing more than 100 Lebanese who had taken refuge from fighting. That attack
sparked an international outcry that forced a halt to an Israeli offensive.
In Beirut, some 5,000 protesters gathered in downtown Beirut, at one point
attacking a U.N. building and burning American flags, shouting, "Destroy Tel
Aviv, destroy Tel Aviv" and chanting for Hezbollah's ally Syria to hit Israel.
Another protest by about 50 people on a road leading to the U.S. Embassy forced
security forces to close the road there.
Images of children's bodies tangled in the building's ruins, being carried
away on blankets or wrapped in plastic sheeting were aired on Arab news
networks. The dead included at least 34 children and 12 women, Lebanese security
In Qana, Khalil Shalhoub was helping pull out the dead until he saw his
brother's body taken out on a stretcher. "Why are they killing us? What have we
done?" he screamed.
Israel said Hezbollah had fired more than 40 rockets from Qana before the
airstrike, including several from near the building that was bombed. Foreign
Ministry official Gideon Meir accused Hezbollah of "using their own civilian
population as human shields."
It said residents of the village had been warned to leave, but Shalhoub and
others in Qana said residents were too terrified to take the road out of the
village. The road to the nearest main city, Tyre, is lined with charred wreckage
and smashed buildings from repeated Israeli bombings.
More than 750,000 Lebanese have fled their homes in the fighting. But many
thousands more are still believed holed up in the south, taking refuge in
schools, hospitals or basements of apartment buildings amid the fighting, many
of them too afraid to flee on roads heavily hit by Israeli strikes.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr disputed allegations that Hezbollah was
firing missiles from Qana.
"What do you expect Israel to say? Will it say that it killed 40 children and
women?" he told Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV station.
On Thursday, the Israeli military's Al-Mashriq radio that broadcasts into
southern Lebanon warned residents that their villages would be "totally
destroyed" if missiles were fired from them. Leaflets with similar messages were
dropped in some areas Saturday.
Israel on Sunday also launched its second significant ground incursion into
southern Lebanon. Before dawn, Israeli forces backed by heavy artillery fire
crossed the border and clashed with Hezbollah guerrillas in the Taibeh Project
area, about two miles inside Lebanon.
Hezbollah said two of its fighters were killed and claimed eight Israeli
soldiers also died. The Israeli military said only that four soldiers were
wounded when guerrillas hit a tank with a missile.
Some 460 Lebanese, mostly civilians, had been killed in the campaign through
Saturday, according to the Health Ministry before the attacks on Qana.
Thirty-three Israeli soldiers have died, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on
northern Israel have killed 18 civilians, Israeli authorities said.
The U.N. World Food Program canceled an aid convoy's trip to the embattled
south after the Israeli military denied safe passage, the group said in a
statement. The six-truck convoy had been scheduled to bring relief supplies to
Many in the Arab world and Europe see the United States as holding the key to
the conflict, believing that Israel would have to stop its offensive, sparked by
Hezbollah's July 12 abduction of two Israeli soldiers if its top ally Washington
insisted it had to.
The United States has balked at doing so, saying any cease-fire must ensure
real and lasting peace.
Rice had come to the Mideast with a peace package that would call for the
disarming of Hezbollah, release of Israel's soldiers, deployment of a
U.N.-mandated force in south Lebanon and the establishment of a buffer zone
along the border.
Hopes had been raised earlier in the week when Hezbollah signed onto a
Lebanese government peace plan that contained some similar items though it left
disarmament and deployment of the international force for later and dependent on
conditions. Chief among those conditions was that Israel release Lebanese in its
jails and agree to resolve a dispute over a piece of land it holds claimed by
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud lashed out at the United States, saying that
if it was "serious, it can make Israel cease firing ... They (Americans) are
still giving the green light to Israel to continue its aggression against