- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

BEIRUT — An independent examination has found 28 persons were killed by Israeli bombs in Qana, half the number originally reported.

The Lebanese government yesterday concurred with the accounting by Human Rights Watch, which found that the original death estimate — of 56 persons, half of them children — had been inflated by chaos and confusion.

Some reports initially put the death toll as high as 60.

Hospital officials in Tyre, where the injured and killed were taken, confirmed that 12 adults and 16 children were killed in Sunday’s attack. Nine were wounded.

Authorities have listed 11 persons as missing, including six children.

Israel, meanwhile, released its own report saying it would not have bombed the building if it had known civilians were inside but insisted Hezbollah must bear the blame for placing its rocket launchers in civilian areas.

The bombing of the two-story home in Qana, a quiet farming village in southern Lebanon, galvanized international reaction against the Lebanon war, now in its third week. Footage of dead children, in particular, led to a temporary halt in bombing — a breather before an intensified ground battle between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah.

The Lebanese Red Cross initially reported 54 dead in the assault, based in part on the number of persons presumed by survivors to be in the building but not recovered.

Rescuers have stopped searching for bodies.

The Qana figures were part of a larger survey, released here Wednesday night, of Israeli attacks on homes and convoys of civilians heading north. The New York-based Human Rights Watch concluded that the Israeli Defense Forces have “systematically failed” to distinguish between civilian and military targets and said such indifference could constitute a war crime.

“To do it time and time again, it appears to be a policy,” Nadim Houry, the group’s researcher for Lebanon, told The Washington Times. “It’s not a policy of intentionally doing it, but a policy not to care.”

The Israeli military has conducted its own inquiry into the bombing, which started shortly after midnight Sunday and shattered eight homes on the outskirts of Qana.

The Israeli Defense Forces said that more than 150 rockets had been launched into Israel from Qana since the start of the conflict but implicitly criticized the attack on the home, which killed members of two extended families.

“Had the information indicated that civilians were present … the attack would not have been carried out,” the military said yesterday.

The Israeli military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, apologized for the loss of civilian life but said Hezbollah “uses civilians as human shields and intentionally operates from within civilian villages and infrastructure.”

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