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Grief and Anger Follow Deadly Qana Bombing


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Don Gonyea, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

World leaders have expressed outrage over an Israeli airstrike yesterday that killed more than 50 civilians, mostly children, in the southern Lebanese village of Qana. Many are calling for an immediate truce.

Israel scaled back its aerial bombardment of Lebanon for 48 hours after talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice returns to Washington today, saying she believes a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas can be forged this week.

In Qana there is grief and anger. The pre-dawn attack yesterday flattened a building where several families had taken shelter.

NPR's Ivan Watson traveled to Qana and has this report.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Rescue teams worked with picks, shovels and even dug with their bare hands yesterday in the sagging ruins of a two-story house that had all but collapsed. Throughout the day they dragged out one dead body after another. Most of the victims were children, a toddler whose pacifier still hung from his dust-covered green shirt, two boys in tank tops and shorts, perhaps brothers, who were laid tenderly on a blanket. They looked like they could have still been sleeping if it wasn't for the bloody bruises on their faces.

The bomb slammed into the side of the building around 1:00 a.m. Sunday after dozens of people from two large extended families had taken shelter for the night on the ground floor of the house. Due to an intense Israeli aerial bombardment, rescue workers said they could not reach Qana until early the next morning.

Qiam Hasham(ph) was one of the handful of survivors they managed to drag from the dirt and transport to a nearby hospital.

The 30-year-old woman moaned in a hospital bed as a doctor tried to adjust her broken shoulder. Hasham spent an entire night trapped under the rubble, along with the bodies of her father, her two sisters-in-law and six of her nieces and nephews.

Ms. QIAM HASHAM (Qana Bombing Victim) (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: We all went to sleep in that house because we thought it would be safe from the bombs, she said. All I remember is waking up and crying. I couldn't move because of the stones on top of me.

The Israeli military says it attacked Qana because Hezbollah fighters were firing rockets from the area. Villagers denied any Hezbollah presence.

Captain Francis Umtope(ph), a United Nations peacekeeper from Ghana who assisted in the recovery operation, said he saw no signs of Hezbollah among the dead here.

Unidentified Man: Were these fighters, or were these ordinary people?

Captain FRANCIS UMTOPE (United Nations Peacekeeper): They are children! We saw children, we saw grown-ups. If there were fighters there, I could not tell.

WATSON: Qana sits on a hilltop, ten minutes drive from the Mediterranean Sea. Israeli airstrikes have destroyed half the village, including a mosque and about a dozen cars. The carcass of a dead donkey lies stinking here amid bunches of tobacco leaves which farmers have hung out to dry. As UN peacekeepers brought in bulldozers to help dig through the rubble yesterday, Israeli warplanes and unmanned spy drones continued to roar overhead.

This village is best known for what Lebanese refer to as the Qana Massacre of 1996, when more than 100 Lebanese refugees were killed by Israeli artillery after they took shelter in a United Nations peacekeeper base in the village. Today, the bodies of at least 27 victims of this latest attack have been taken to this hospital in the nearby town of Tyre. The corpses have been wrapped in plastic and stored on the floor of a refrigerated truck. In a courtyard on the other side of the hospital sat Mohammed Qasam Shalub(ph), his face pale and bruised, his arm broken, the sole survivor of his family.

Mr. MOHAMMED QASAM SHALUB (Qana Bombing Victim): (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Shalub listed the dead: his wife, Adijah Yunis(ph); his children, twelve-year-old Houra; ten-year-old Ali; Yaya(ph), age nine; Assam(ph), seven; and his two-year-old daughter, Zahra(ph).

Mr. SHALUB: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: They were all innocent civilians, he says. They woke up and started screaming when we felt the explosion. They were killed, he adds, by Israel, using American guns and rockets.

Then Shalub repeated one phrase, over and over.

Mr. SHALUB: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: He pledged his loyalty to Hezbollah and to its leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

Amid the shock and grief here, there is a quiet, seething anger. Yahia Dagher(ph) is a resident of Qana whose family escaped the deadly air strike. Despite Israel's warnings to leave the area, he says he will go back and sleep in his house in Qana tonight, and he has his own warning for Israel.

Mr. YAHIA DAGHER: We will erase it. We will erase Israel. We will cancel it from the map.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, NPR News, Tyre, Lebanon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.