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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 05:43 GMT 06:43 UK
Israel halts fire for Qana probe
Lebanon accuses Israel of war crimes

Israel has agreed an immediate 48-hour suspension of air strikes over southern Lebanon to allow an investigation into the death of more than 50 civilians.

More than 30 children died in Sunday's Qana attack, the deadliest Israeli raid since hostilities began on 12 July.

The announcement came after intensive talks between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Israeli officials.

Ms Rice also said she believes a ceasefire and a lasting settlement could be reached this week.

Israeli air strikes hit eastern Lebanon early on Monday, with two raids near Yanta, 5km (three miles) from the Syrian border, at 0130 (2230GMT Sunday), Lebanese security sources told the Associated Press.

However, Israel said the strikes had been carried out before the 48-hour suspension came into effect.

An Israeli army spokesman told AP that the flights over southern Lebanon were only suspended from 0200 (2300GMT).

'Extreme shock'

The UN Security Council agreed a statement late on Sunday deploring the loss of life.

The statement, approved unanimously by the 15-member council after hours of talks, expressed "extreme shock and distress" at the deaths.

Why have they attacked one- and two-year-old children and defenceless women?
Qana survivor

However, the statement did not call for an immediate ceasefire, despite an earlier appeal by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

The strike has drawn strong international condemnation and, correspondents say, given a new urgency to diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

But the US has been resisting calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Hezbollah militants have vowed to retaliate after the Qana attack.

Map

Katyusha rockets hit the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shemona on Sunday, wounding several people, in what residents described as the worst day so far.

Lebanon's health minister says about 750 people - mainly civilians - have been killed by Israeli action.

A total of 51 Israelis, including at least 18 civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

'Heinous'

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, told the BBC the suspension would allow time for a probe and for civilians to leave the area.

"We're doing this in order to allow a full investigation into what happened in Qana, " he said, "and also in order to create a window for the UN to evacuate people from southern Lebanon, who want to leave southern Lebanon."

However, Israel is reserving the right to take action against any targets it says are preparing attacks against it.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Surely the lives of the innocent should take precedence
Nikki, Warwickshire

The Israeli strike on Qana early on Sunday killed displaced civilians sheltering in the basement of a three-storey house.

Old people, women and children were among those killed.

Reporters spoke of survivors screaming in grief and anger, as some scrabbled through the debris with bare hands.

"Why have they attacked one- and two-year-old children and defenceless women?" said a man who lost family members.

Israel said it had warned civilians to flee, but the BBC's Jim Muir, in Qana, says many did not have the means - or were too frightened - to flee.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denounced Israel's "heinous crimes against civilians".

Following the attack in Qana, dozens of protesters gathered outside the UN building in Beirut, chanting slogans against Israel and the United States

Protesters at the UN building in Beirut
Lebanese soldiers were forced to protect the UN building in Beirut

Demonstrators attacked the building, ransacked offices and burnt UN and American flags, in anger at the UN's failure to prevent Israel's attacks.

Israeli military officials showed aerial film, taken on Friday, which they said showed Katyusha missiles being fired from near Qana, and a launcher being hidden in a house there.

"If there were no Hezbollah this would never have happened," said Mr Gillerman.

Correspondents say Qana holds bitter memories for the Lebanese.

It was the site of an Israeli bombing of a UN base in 1996 that killed more than 100 people sheltering there during Israel's "Grapes of Wrath" offensive, which was also aimed at destroying Hezbollah.


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See the aftermath of the Israeli air strike






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