- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

QANA, Lebanon — Israeli bombs yesterday killed at least 34 children and 22 adults as they slept in this village believed by the Israelis to be the source of terrorist missiles fired at Israel.

The bombing, the deadliest single attack since the conflict began 19 days ago, prompted violent protests at the U.N. headquarters in Lebanon and the cancellation of a visit to Beirut by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

U.N. Security Council members, shocked by the images of small bodies being pulled from the wreckage in their nightclothes, convened for an emergency session in New York.

Israeli officials expressed “deep sorrow” at the deaths but argued that the ultimate blame lay with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which Israel said had fired dozens of rockets into Israel from the village.

In Qana, believed by many Lebanese to be the place where Jesus turned six jars of water into wine, survivors said the bombs began falling about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, with a deafening assault that lit the sky.

Scores of people sought shelter in the basement of Abbass Hashem’s home, which was nestled against a hill and slightly removed from other buildings. But the house received a direct hit shortly after 1 a.m.

“The bomb came in the door, not the roof,” said Mohamad Shalhoub, who lost five children, his wife and mother in the bombing. He said he was knocked outside, dazed and covered with debris.

When he returned to consciousness, he said from his hospital bed, there was shouting from the basement, but the house was falling down and it was too dark to go inside.

Then a second bomb came, and the shouting stopped. Rescue workers did not arrive until daylight.

A few archaeologists support the belief of Lebanese Christians that this sleepy village of aged stone buildings and lushly planted hillsides is the place where Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding party, though most believe it took place at Kfar Kanna, a small Arab village near the Sea of Galilee in Israel.

But Qana is better known in the Arab world for a modern event: This is where 106 Lebanese civilians, mostly women and children, died in March 1996, when Israeli planes dropped mortars on a U.N. compound where they had sought refuge.

The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) never recovered from that attack, which came to symbolize the ineffectualness of UNIFIL’s mission.

“This is another massacre, a massacre of children and women and people who just want to live,” said Hassan Farouch, who was 20 years old during the last bombing. I don’t know why they keep doing this, but we are a people with self esteem, and we want to [hit] their civilians as they do to us.”

Most of yesterday’s dead were members of the Shalhoub and Hashem families, extended networks of cousins and uncles that have lived in Qana for generations, tending luscious fig trees, grape vines, tomatoes and tobacco.

Rescue workers, sometimes aided by members of the Lebanese Army, dug out their dead with shovels and hands, clawing through dirt and tattered bedding to discover more bodies.

Many of the dead were barefoot children dressed in cotton T-shirts and shorts, their eyes closed and mouths filled with dirt. Some had bloody wounds, but most appeared to have died of internal injuries or suffocation.

Israel yesterday released video of Hezbollah rockets being fired from a building that it said was located in Qana, and Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir accused Hezbollah of “using their own civilian population as human shields.”

Survivors said none of the dead belonged to Hezbollah, the Islamic militia whose kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 unleashed the current onslaught. In fact, Qana is far more sympathetic to Amal, a rival militia and political party led by Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese National Assembly.

News of yesterday’s deaths quickly reached the capital, where some 2,000 irate residents descended upon the U.N. headquarters to protest UNIFIL’s failure to protect the citizens. Dozens of them broke into the building, smashing windows and wrecking furniture.

Fury was also directed toward the United States for supporting Israel’s insistence that Hezbollah must be disabled as a military force before a cease-fire can be imposed.

With more than 500 Lebanese killed in the fighting thus far, mostly civilians, U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Siniora for the first time seemed to endorse the continuing attacks on Israel by Hezbollah.

“As long as the aggression continues, there is response to be exercised,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

In Qana, a town of grief, the distant demonstrations meant little.

“It’s not for you to cry,” a man tried to comfort an elderly neighbor who had begun to shake and sob. “We are giving blood to the fight.”

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