Annan: Israel raid may be part of pattern
By NICK WADHAMS, Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS - Israel's air raid on in the Lebanese town of Qana, which killed 28 people, may be part of a larger pattern of violations of international law in the war between Israel and Hezbollah, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report Monday.
In that light, Annan said that the July 30 attack was sufficiently serious to merit a more comprehensive investigation.
The attack should be seen "in the broader context of what could be, based on preliminary information available to the United Nations ... 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 wrote.
The Security Council had asked Annan last week to report back on the circumstances of the attack, when it approved a statement expressing its "extreme shock and distress" at the bombing. It deplored the loss of civilian life in the conflict.
In the six-page report, Annan acknowledged requests from Lebanon, the League of Arab States and the Non-Aligned Movement for a full investigation. Yet the report said the seven days Annan was given were not nearly enough for such a task, particularly because the war has made getting to Qana difficult and U.N. observers weren't there when the attack occurred.
Initial accounts had said that some 56 people were killed in the attack. But the toll was later lowered by half. Of the 28 bodies pulled from the rubble, some 14 were children, Annan said.
Annan's report said the U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, known by its acronym UNIFIL, could not confirm or deny Israel's contention that Hezbollah was launching attacks from Qana before the July 30 attack.
In a letter to Annan accompanying the report, Israel claimed Qana was Hezbollah's regional headquarters, contained weapons stockpiles, and was the site of 150 missile launches. The letter said Israel had repeatedly warned civilians in the town to clear out before it was bombed.
"Since the start of hostilities, Israelis in 150 population centers have faced unprecedented danger from a barrage of missiles and attacks emanating from areas such as Qana," said the letter, which was unsigned. "Like other operations, the goal of the Qana raid was to defend Israeli citizens."
The letter said Israel regrets civilian deaths in the conflict and does not target them intentionally. It accused Hezbollah of using civilians as human shields and intentionally targeting regular Israelis.
Israel's own inquiry into the Qana attack concluded that the bombing was a mistake and said the military would not have targeted the building had it known civilians were inside. However, it accused Hezbollah of using civilians as human shields.
Two letters from Lebanon - one from its U.N. mission and the other from its Foreign Ministry - said the Qana attack was one of several violations of humanitarian law Israel has committed during the fighting against Hezbollah.
The letter from the U.N. mission said that the civilians who remained in Qana, which had been bombarded heavily in the previous two weeks, either found escape blocked by destroyed roads and buildings, or were too old, sick or poor to leave.
That letter claimed that 62 people were killed and that Israel had presented no evidence showing Hezbollah was operating among them. The warnings Israel delivered do not absolve it of its humanitarian obligations, the letter said.
"In Qana, Israeli forces deliberately attacked the civilian population sheltering in an unadulterated residential area," the letter said. "This, without any doubt, represents a war crime committed against (the) civilian population not taking direct part in the hostilities."
The other Lebanese letter conformed with Annan's conclusion that 28 people were killed.
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