TEL AVIV – Israel might not be to blame for the collapse of a building yesterday in south Lebanon that reportedly killed 58 civilians, drawing worldwide condemnation and calls for an immediate end to the Jewish state’s attack on Hezbollah’s infrastructure, according to an initial investigation.
The Israel Air Force yesterday fired a missile at a building in the Lebanese town of Qana, believing the structure was used as a refuge by Hezbollah members.
The Israeli army last week and again this weekend warned Qana residents to vacate the area. Israeli drones picked up images of Hezbollah members entering and exiting the vicinity of the targeted building, military officials say. They said Hezbollah likely used the building to take refuge immediately following the launching of rockets from the area.
The missile was fired at the Qana building at 1 a.m. Lebanese time. According to scores of local reporters, the building collapsed at about 8 a.m. – leaving open a seven-hour gap military officials currently are attempting to analyze.
Two other missiles were fired in Qana during the seven-hour period, but the targets were hit correctly and were accounted for. Military officials ruled out the possibility a second Israeli missile struck the building seven hours after the initial strike.
Among the explanations for the time gap being studied are that the missile that hit the Qana building badly damaged the infrastructure, but the structure was held together for another seven hours and then collapsed of initial damages; or that the building housed weapons that exploded later, causing the structure to collapse.
Military officials say they are not ruling out the entry of a “third party” that detonated explosives seven hours later, although they have no information this occurred.
“I don’t want to get into conspiracy theories,” said Israeli Air Force chief of staff Amir Eshel. “We will work diligently and collect every detail, so as to understand what happened there. I hope that we will know in the end, but I’m not sure. It’s possible that we will never know what exactly happened there.”
Unexplained so far, according to military officials here, is why it took seven hours to evacuate the building after the missile strike.
“According to foreign press reports, and this is one of the reports we are relying on, the house collapsed at 8 a.m. We do not have testimony regarding the time of the collapse. If the house collapsed at 12 a.m., it is difficult for me to believe that they waited eight hours to evacuate it,” said Eshel.
Already the international community yesterday demanded an immediate end to Israel’s campaign in Lebanon, which began July 12 after Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli military patrol unit and kidnapped two soldiers. The terror group has since fired an average of 90 rockets per day at northern Israeli cities, killing 15 Israelis and wounding hundreds, some seriously. One-third of Israelis currently live under the threat of Hezbollah rockets.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday joined Lebanese leaders in calling for an unconditional cease-fire, which the United States rejected. The U.N. Security Council expressed “extreme shock and distress” over the attack on Qana attack.
The U.S., though, urged a temporary halt to hostilities in Lebanon, which Israel agreed to this morning, announcing a 48-hour period in which the Israeli Air Force will cease to bomb targets with the exception of strikes against Hezbollah rocket cells about to launch missiles.
Israel says it needs another 10-14 days to complete its military offensive in Lebanon, which aims to deal a severe blow to Hezbollah’s infrastructure. But political sources tell WND Israel is expecting a cease-fire to be implemented by the weekend.
“We now need to expedite our time period for this operation based on the political reality,” a military planner told WND. “I fear we are not going to have enough time to do what must be done to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Israel previously ended a military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon after an attack 10 years ago on Qana drew widespread condemnation. In April 1996, following a Hezbollah raid against the Jewish state, Israel launched an operation against Hezbollah positions in south Lebanon. But after the Israeli shelling of a U.N. peacekeepers base in Qana killed more than 100, the operation came to a swift end.