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Massacre in Qana: 54 die

Last night at 1 am, Israeli Defence Forces bombed the town of Qana in southern Lebanon.
None | By Shreevasta Nevatia, Damascus And Al-masna'a (syrian-lebanese Border),
UPDATED ON JUL 31, 2006 03:53 AM IST

Last night at 1 am, Israeli Defence Forces bombed the town of Qana in southern Lebanon. The buildings, which were reduced to rubble, housed refugees who had fled from other villages and cities, such as Tyre, which had been bombarded by the IDF over the past 18 days.

Fifty-four civilians have been reportedly killed, 37 of them children.

While Israeli spokespersons regret the loss of civilian lives, they maintain that Qana was being used by the Hezbollah to launch rocket attacks into northern Israel and that enough warnings had been given to innocent civilians by way of air-dropped pamphlets.

The attack serves as a grim reminder to the Lebanese people of the events of 1996 when the IDF attacked a UN shelter, causing almost 100 casualties. The pretext, even then, was a conflict with the Hezbollah.

In the wake of this latest attack, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora issued a statement describing the event as an "Israeli massacre". He said Condoleezza Rice, who was to arrive in Beirut on Sunday, would not be welcome in Lebanon until the announcement of an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

A few minutes after Siniora's comment, around 500 protestors gathered round the UN building in Beirut, carrying both Israeli and Hezbollah flags. Angered by the happenings in Qana and the inability of the international community to bring peace to their country, the mob pelted the building's glass windows with stones. Some came armed with clubs and wooden planks, which they used to break into the building and destroy property. As a result, there is now talk of the US ambassador to Lebanon being recalled.

While the defacement of the building continued, conflicting reports came from Jerusalem, where Rice was meeting Israeli governmental representatives. A news agency reported that she had indeed asked for an immediate ceasefire but Israeli and US officials in Jerusalem later denied this. They still believe that an immediate and somewhat abrupt cessation of hostilities will not help form what they hope will be a "New Middle East".

That Israel has clearly upped the ante and is conducting more "significant" operations in the past 24 hours is also proved by its bombing of what is called 'No Man's Land', 1 km away from the Syrian border. Between the Lebanon border and the Syrian checkpoint of Al Masna'a, there is a 3-km stretch which was bombarded by the IDF, making any kind of entry into or exit from Lebanon into Syria almost impossible.

In the past fortnight, a few aid convoys have passed through Al Masna'a and many of the 1.6 lakh refugees who have come into Syria have used the Masna'a checkpoint to escape domestic hostility.

Because of the large craters that lie on the road here, the checkpoint has been closed. Abdullah, a taxi driver who was charging $250 to ferry persons to and fro, has hiked his rate to $1,500. "Surely my life is worth more," he says.

With the death toll rising sharply in the past few hours, some analysts say Israel realises that it will have to accept a ceasefire sooner rather than later and this is its effort to go out with a bang. Some others think Israel is trying to shift the world's focus from Bin Jabel, that has still not been captured from the Hezbollah.

But with images of the Qana attack and the defacing of the UN building making it to television screens all across the world, and with Rice having been refused permission to enter Lebanon, there is a sense that the international community needs to act more effectively now than ever before.

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