Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israel military cleared of negligence in Qana strike

THE GUARDIAN , HAZOR AIR FORCE BASE, ISRAEL

An Israeli military investigation into the Qana bombing, which killed at least 28 people, on Thursday found that the air force did not know there were civilians in the building and blamed Hezbollah for using "human shields."

The air force would not have hit the building, which is close to the border in southern Lebanon, had it known there were civilians present, the military said.

Human rights groups have criticized Israeli targeting in the air campaign. Amnesty International described the investigation as "clearly inadequate" and a "whitewash." In a report into Israeli air strikes on Lebanon, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the Israelis had "systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians."

The Lebanese government said at least 54 civilians sheltering in the basement of the building were killed in the bombing. Human Rights Watch said the latest evidence showed that 28 people, including 16 children, were confirmed dead and another 13 were still missing.

Others may be buried under the rubble of the house, where rescue work has been halted.

The house was attacked just before 1am on Sunday morning with two aerial missiles, according to the Israeli military. One exploded, the second apparently did not detonate.

Qana had been the launching base of more than 150 rockets in the two weeks before the attack and civilians had been warned to leave the area, the military said.

"The Israeli Defence Forces [IDF] acted according to information that the building was not inhabited by civilians and was being used as a hiding place for terrorists," it said. "Had the information indicated civilians were present in the building, the attack would not have been carried out."

"The Hezbollah organization places Lebanese civilians as a defensive shield between itself and us while the IDF places itself as a defensive shield between the citizens of Israel and Hezbollah's terror. That is the principal difference between us," the Israeli chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, wrote in the report.

Amnesty International said its interviews showed that civilians had been sheltering in the basement two weeks before the raid.

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