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'57 killed' as Israeli air strike hits children

By Kathy Gannon

07/30/06 "
AP" -- - Dozens of children were feared dead today after Israeli missiles struck the southern Lebanese village of Qana, flattening houses on top of sleeping residents. Survivors said that more than 50 adults and children had died.

The Israeli army said missiles had been fired from the area before the 1am air strike in which a three-story building took a direct hit.

Rescuers aided by villagers were digging by hand to look for casualties.

The bodies of at least 27 children were found in the rubble, said Abu Shadi Jradi, a civil defence official at the scene. At least 10 children's bodies had been pulled out, placed in plastic bags and loaded in ambulances, he said.

"We want this to stop," shouted villager Mohammed Ismail. " May God have mercy on the children. They came here to escape the fighting. They are hitting children to bring the fighters to their knees."

The Israeli army said rockets had been launched repeatedly from the area on Israel. "We were attacking launchers that were firing missiles," said Capt. Jacob Dallal, an Israeli army spokesman. He said the army dropped leaflets several days ago telling civilians to leave Qana.

The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today said that the village of Qana was used as a Hizbollah base for launching hundreds of rockets at Israel.

"From the village and its surroundings, hundreds of Katyusha (rockets) have been fired at Israel, toward Kiryat Shemona and Afula," he said during Israel's weekly Cabinet meeting, according to a participant. "The army did not get an order to strike at Lebanese civilians. In Kfar Qana, hundreds of Katyushas are hidden."

The Lebanese Defence Minister Elias Murr told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV station: "What do you expect Israel to say? Will it say that it killed 40 children and women?"

The Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the attack reinforced his calls for a ceasefire: "There is no place at this sad moment for any discussions other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as international investigation of the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now."

In April 1996 more than 100 Lebanese civilians were killed at the same village in an Israeli artillery shelling of a UN base. The civilians had sought refuge with the UN to escape Israeli bombardment.

The attack on Qana, in the hills east of the port city of Tyre, came as heavy fighting erupted along the border between Hizbollah and the Israeli army.

Hizbollah's al-Manar TV channel said Israeli troops had "infiltrated" a zone known as the Taibeh Project area, some three or four kilometers inside Lebanon. It said the Israeli force was a commando unit known as "the Golani Brigade," and that two soldiers had been killed.

The Israeli army would not immediately comment on this report, and it was not clear whether this was a small-scale clash or the large invasion Lebanese authorities have been fearing.

Along the border, several Hizbollah-held sectors were pounded overnight by the Israeli army, witnesses said.

Lebanese officials said yesterdayday that Israeli troops had massed on the sector of the border where Israeli troops were reported to have entered Lebanon. That area was about 20 kilometers to the northeast of the town of Bint Jbail, from which Israeli troops pulled out on Saturday after a week of fierce clashes.

Al-Manar also broadcast a communique from Hizbollah saying it had shelled Israeli outposts along the border.

The Israeli army said Katyushas rockets were falling in Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona and an area close to Maalot. It said the rockets mostly fell in open areas, and that no injuries were reported.

2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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