August 2, 2006
Yoav Stern, Yuval Yoaz and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents
The deaths of dozens of civilians in an Israel Air Force attack on the southern Lebanese village of Qana marked a significant diplomatic turning point against Israel, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday.
The foreign minister said that following the events in Qana, Israel’s scope for political maneuvering had been reduced, as was the amount of European support Israel is receiving for its operation in Lebanese soil.
Livni said this change was exemplified in the “problematic” Russian and French stance towards Israel.
She said that despite the pictures of civilian casualties coming from Qana of it was important not to stray from implementing UN decision 1559.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to establish a state commission of inquiry into the killings at Qana.
As the Israel Air Force continues to investigate the air strike, questions have been raised over military accounts of the incident.
It now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.
The Israel Defense Forces had said after the deadly air-strike that many rockets had been launched from Qana. However, it changed its version on Monday.
The site was included in an IAF plan to strike at several buildings in proximity to a previous launching site. Similar strikes were carried out in the past. However, there were no rocket launches from Qana on the day of the strike.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Red Cross workers reported on Monday that 28 bodies, 19 of them children, were removed from the rubble.
The count is lower than the some 60 bodies reported by news agencies, quoting Lebanese security officials. Survivors say 60 people were in the building at the time of the strike.
Additional bodies are expected to be found in rescue operations.
Elsewhere in southern Lebanon, 49 bodies were removed Monday from the ruins of buildings in ten villages. Medical sources in Lebanon say dozens more are buried in the rubble.
IDF sources said the warning pamphlets the IAF disseminated to residents, calling on them to leave the area, were dropped several days before the strike, and not over the weekend.
The IAF does not have a way to verify whether villages have been vacated, or whether civilians remain hidden in bomb-shelters in locations otherwise believed to have been vacated, the sources said.
Paratroopers who fought in Bint Jbail last week said they noticed civilians hiding in the rubble while the fierce battle with Hezbollah militants was taking place.
The IDF account and those of survivors present contradictory versions of the Qana deaths. The IDF said that there is an unexplained gap of about seven hours between the IAF strike and the first report that the building had collapsed. Residents’ accounts say only 10 minutes went by between the strike and the collapse.
The survivors say rescue teams arrived only in the morning, as night conditions made the rescue mission difficult. The Red Cross in Tyre received a call for help only in the morning, explaining their late arrival.
Sami Yazbek, chief of the Tyre department of the Red Cross, said his office received a call only at 7 A.M. The ambulances were further slowed by the bombed roads leading to Qana.
The media first heard of the bombing at 8 A.M. The foreign press quoted Lebanese sources explaining the late announcement, saying the electricity and phones in the village of Qana were almost entirely cut-off by IAF attacks.
An IAF investigation into the bombing is underway.
The IAF admits the village was struck three times between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Two bombs were dropped on the building in the first strike. Channel 10, however, said on Monday that the initial investigation shows the bombs did not immediately explode, and an explosion in the early morning caused the casualties.
The IDF provided no explanation for the second explosion, and it is not clear whether the bomb was moved, or whether Hezbollah ammunition stored in the building caused the explosion.
Civilians continued to leave their homes en masse in southern Lebanon on Monday, taking advantage of the temporary slow-down in the fighting, imposed by the IAF after the Qana attack.
The United Nations and the Red Cross delivered emergency assistance to villages in the south on Monday. The UN also delivered food and medical equipment to Qana residents.