The Israeli air strike on the Lebanese town of Qana that killed 28 people may be part of a larger pattern of violations of international law in the war between Israel and Hezbollah, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report.
Annan said that the July 30 air strike was serious enough to merit a 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.
Annan acknowledged requests from Lebanon, the Arab League and the Non-Aligned Movement for a full investigation. Yet the report, just six pages long, said the seven days Annan was given were not nearly enough time for such a task, particularly because the fighting has made getting to Qana difficult and UN observers were not 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 UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon could not confirm or deny Israel's contention that Hezbollah was launching rocket attacks from Qana before the July 30 air strike.
In a letter to Annan accompanying the report, Israel claimed that 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 Israeli 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 recent conflict and does not target them intentionally. It accused Hezbollah of using civilians as human shields and intentionally targeting Israeli civilians.