Qana Killings Could Breach International Law as Ceasefire Sought: UN Chief

An Israeli tank crosses from southern Lebanon into Israel at sunrise at a border crossing near the town of Metulla Tuesday, Aug. 8 2006

The UN chief says in a report Israel's deadly attack on the Lebanese village of Qana could be part of "a pattern of violations of international law" in the Israel-Hezbollah war.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made a new appeal to Israel and Hezbollah "to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law," in a preliminary report on the July 30 attack which left at least 28 civilians dead including 16 children.

"The attack on Qana should be seen in the broader context of what could be, based on preliminary information available to the United Nations, including eyewitness accounts, a pattern of violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, committed during the course of the current hostilities," Annan said.

Israel said in a statement to the United Nations that Qana was a base for Hezbollah "terrorists" and that it had given advance warning to residents of its intention to attack.

Lebanon, in its declaration, called the attack "a war crime" and said that other bodies may still be under the rubble.

According to the Lebanese government's account, in the early hours of July 30 a house collapsed under the impact of one direct hit by a missile fired by an Israeli jet and another that landed nearby.

The UN Security Council expressed "extreme shock and distress" at the attack, which was first reported to have killed more than 50 civilians, and ordered Anan to produce a report within seven days.

Israeli ground forces and Shiite Muslim militia have clashed fiercely in southern Lebanon as diplomatic moves to end the four-week-old war continue at the United Nations.

Israeli military sources said one soldier was killed and five were wounded by an anti-tank missile in the Lebanese village of Dabel and "at least 15" Hezbollah militia were killed in fighting in the same village.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said late Monday that his government had imposed "no limits" to the offensive, which has killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and left close to one million homeless and Lebanon's economy in ruins.

Diplomatic efforts to end the conflict appeared to falter after Lebanon objected to a draft UN Security Council resolution which called for an end to hostilities but would leave Israeli forces temporarily in charge of a swathe of Lebanese territory about 30 kilometres (20 miles) wide and 30 kilometres deep.

France, one of the co-sponsors of the draft, said it was prepared to accept amendments proposed by Lebanon with the support of the 22-member Arab League.

"We are saying to the Americans: 'Let's not submit this resolution until we have taken on several amendments by the Arab League, in any case, the Lebanese government'," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Paris.

But the United States, the other sponsor of the draft, seemed less willing to consider changes, in particular Lebanon's demand that the resolution insist on the withdrawal of Israeli forces immediately after a ceasefire.

"I understand both parties aren't going to agree with all aspects of the resolution," US        President George W. Bush told reporters at his ranch in Texas.

"We will work with our partners to get the resolution laid down as quickly as possible," Bush added.

But his envoy to the UN, John Bolton, made clear there would be no vote on the resolution until Arab delegates had had a chance to address the Security Council at a formal public meeting on Tuesday.

In Berlin, however, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before leaving for the Middle East on Tuesday that "the members of the UN Security Council appear to have agreed" on the wording of a resolution.

And British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hoped to see a resolution passed by Wednesday.

The Lebanese cabinet, which includes two Hezbollah members, approved a plan on Monday to deploy 15,000 troops to the southern border once Israeli forces leave, and called up reserve troops in preparation.

Israel seemed unimpressed. They said that "The majority of the country supports the operation and is ready to support the price."

Speaking during a visit to military headquarters in the north, he added:

"I give you all the means that you need and all of my support. We will not stop."

The Israeli army warned Lebanese south of the Litani River, which snakes across the country up to 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border, not to go outdoors after 10:00 pm (1900 GMT).

"The IDF (Israel Defence Force) intends to intensify its attack against Hezbollah in the region and has warned the civilian population in the area repeatedly in the past weeks to leave north for their safety," a statement read.

On Monday, which saw some of the heaviest Israeli bombing since the war began, at least 69 people were reported killed in Lebanon.

Addressing a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in his ravaged capital on Monday, Lebanese Premier Fuad Siniora said he refused to let Lebanon be a "punch bag" for Israel.

Wiping away tears, he told the ministers: "Your standing with us is a right and a duty. Arab security is interlinked."

Siniora's own seven-point peace plan calls for an Israeli withdrawal, the expansion of the UN peacekeeping force sent to the area after a previous invasion in 1978, the deployment of the Lebanese army to the border and the disarming of Hezbollah.

Siniora accused the Israeli air force of "a deliberate massacre" in the southern village of Hula, saying "more than 40 martyrs" had died there Monday.

He later retracted his statement, saying it turned out that only one person had been killed. A spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) later said five people had died in Hula.

Source: AFP

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