Beirut/Tel Aviv (dpa) – An Israeli raid Sunday on a building sheltering civilians east of the southern port city of Tyre, killed over 50 people and wounded several others, witnesses and police said.
It was the highest casualty toll in any single incident since the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah guerrillas began on July 12.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and House Speaker Nabih Berri said after the number of casualties became known that “there will be no negotiations with Israel until there is an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his ministers at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Israel was in no hurry to agree to a truce before it achieved its aims in the fighting.
“Israel is in no rush to reach a ceasefire before we get to that point where we could say that we reached the main objectives we had set forth,” he said.
“I can see at least 18 dead and several are still under the rubble,” a witness at the scene of the bombing told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
“Most of the killed are children and women,” said the witness.
“I can say this is a massacre. Most of the people here have fled other areas to hide from the Israeli bombardment from other areas in southern Lebanon,” a Red cross volunteer at the scene told dpa.
“There are several wounded under the rubble and we are having still difficulty to evacuate them,” he added.
“This is the same scene I saw in 1996 … at least 20 children are among the dead,” a witness told dpa.
The witness said the residential area was targeted by fifty shells since dawn.
The building was housing refugees in the village of Qana, east of Tyre. A massacre took place in the same village in 1996 when Israeli shells hit a UN shelter, killing 109 people.
“This is a collective punishment against the civilians in southern Lebanon,” Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said.
An Israeli army spokesman said the Hizbollah guerrilla group had launched “numerous attacks” from the area, but would not say why that specific building had been targeted.
Israeli ground troops, meanwhile, extended their operations in southern Lebanon, moving northwards to battle Hizbollah militiamen in the village of Taibe.
An army spokeswoman said two soldiers had so far been injured in the fighting, and three Hizbollah fighters had been hit.
The 19th day of the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah had begun with the Israel Air Force bombing Lebanon and the Iranian-backed guerrilla group launching missiles at northern Israeli towns.
An army spokeswoman said the air force flew over 40 raids overnight, bombing 10 structures used by Hizbollah and attacking roads used by the guerrillas to move their missiles.
Hizbollah fired around 40 rockets at northern Israel Sunday morning. No injuries were reported.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was expected meanwhile to continue her talks Sunday with Israeli officials, among them Defence Minister Amir Peretz and Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni.
Rice met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert late Saturday night, shortly after arriving back in the region for her second mediation trip in less than a week.
During their two-hour meeting they discussed conditions for the deployment of an international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
Israel has said its aims in the fighting include having the Lebanese army deploy in the south, bolstered by an international force, significantly weakening Hizbollah’s military ability, and securing the release of of two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hizbollah on June 12 during a cross-border raid.
The incident sparked Israel’s major offensive against Hizbollah and other targets in Lebanon.
Originally posted on Sunday, July 30, 2006 on http://oeliwat.jeeran.com/archive/2006/7/76282.html