Dozens hurt in southern Lebanon: At least 55 people, including 21 children, were killed after a three-story building collapsed in the village of Qana in southern Lebanon.
Lebanese media reported that the building, which serves as a shelter for refugees from southern Lebanon, was hit in an Israel
Air Force air strike.
A senior IAF officer said that the Air Force has been striking the area for three days now following dozens of incidents in which Katyusha rockets were launched from the village and its surrounding areas, and that residents were warned to leave.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz instructed the Israel Defense Forces to launch an immediate inquiry into the incident in Qana.
The officer explained that "also yesterday (Saturday) rockets were launched at Kiryat Shmona, Ma'a lot, Afula and other areas. We are only striking areas from which rockets are being fired, and the building struck this morning was close to an area where there was an attempt to launch Katyusha at Israel."
"On a regular basis terrorists tend to run dozens of meters into the building, sometimes with the launchers themselves, and hide there," he said.
Injured evacuated (Photo: Reuters)
According to the officer, the IDF issued a severe warning to the village residents, as well as to residents of other villages in the area, that they must leave the place due to the activities of terrorists in the area and the fact that fact that the IDF was operating there.
"We followed the operation regime in the village and it seemed abandoned by civilians, so the strikes are carried out there, not against the village itself but against the terror centers," he said.
The officer noted that terrorists may be insisting to operate from the village in light of the fact that it symbols an incident that took place there at the midst of Operation Grapes of Wrath, in which dozens of Lebanese civilians were killed and which was one of the main causes which led to the end of the operation.
'Dozens buried under rubble'
On Sunday morning, shortly after 8 a.m., a report was received on the building collapse. Sources in Lebanon claimed that the Israel Air Force struck in the area and destroyed several buildings, and as a result many people were trapped in a three-story building.
Similar to the incident which took place in Qana during Operation Grapes of Wrath, the building hit on Sunday was also used as a shelter by refugees from southern Lebanon who escaped the Israel Defense Forces' strikes.
According to reports, some 100 refugees were in the building at the time of the strike.
Wreckage (Photo: Reuters)
The al-Jazeera television network and the Lebanese and Arab stations reported that 35 people were killed, many of them buried under the rubble. The Lebanese noted that rescue forces were experiencing difficulties due to the great wreckage in the area. Lebanese rescue services and Red Cross members were operating to complete the evacuation.
According to eyewitnesses, many people were searching for survivors with bare hands, while bodies of children lay in the area and many injured were crying for help. One of the survivors searched for his sister who was buried inside the building, while the body of a 70-year-old woman and a small baby were recovered from the ruins.
The Lebanese Health Ministry reported that 403 civilians were killed so far in southern Lebanon, and the death toll continues to rise. Sources at the United Nations reported that the numbers were much higher, possibly close to 600.
The official reports came from police and hospital sources, but according to sources in the UN's aid organizations, the police and health services in many areas in Lebanon have stopped operating, with police officers escaping and hospitals shut down.
Qana – end of Operation Grapes of Wrath
In 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath, the IDF shot an artillery shell at fire sources in the village of Qana in southern Lebanon. The shell hit a UN outpost in the village, which was functioning at the time as a shelter for residents of the village. The shell caused the death of over 100 Lebanese civilians and the injury of tens more village residents.
The results of the shelling disaster realized the Israeli fear of international pressure. Pictures of the dead and injured were broadcast throughout the world, giving birth to intense international pressure on Israel to end the operation even though its objectives were not yet achieved.
A short time before the events of Qana, the UN initiated an US-led mediation process between Israel and Syrian and Lebanese representatives (who acted in coordination with Hizbullah). After a number of days of negotiations, the representatives signed an agreement called Understandings of Grapes of Wrath (4.26.1996), in which the two sides committed not to involved civilians in war.
Practically, it was agreed that Hizbullah would abstain from firing Katyusha rockets at Israel, and that the IDF would abstain from shooting at civilian targets in southern Lebanon. Likewise, it was agreed upon to establishment of a follow-up committee, in which the United States, France, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel would participate, that would oversee the application of the understandings. One possible interpretation of the agreement is that Israel recognized Hizbullah's right to strike IDF soldiers in the security buffer zone.
Fighting approaches Syrian border
On Saturday night, the Air Force continued to strike
targets across southern Lebanon. Among the 40 targets attacked were also Hizbullah buildings, bridges, a rocket launcher and access routes.
The Air Force also struck near the border between Syria and Lebanon, in the Bekaa Valley area, security forces in Lebanon reported. It was the first strike in the area in 18 years.
IAF aircrafts launched three missiles at the Masana crossing, which is 300 meters (984 feet) away from the Lebanese customs area.
Hanan Greenberg and Roee Nahmias contributed to the report