Israeli warplanes strike hours after announcing 48-hour aerial halt and apology for civilian deaths.
By Zeina Karam
The Associated Press
Beirut – Israeli warplanes struck suspected guerrilla positions in eastern Lebanon near the border with Syria early Monday, despite a 48-hour suspension announced a few hours earlier, security officials said.
Israeli jets carried out two raids at approximately 1:30 a.m. near the village of Yanta, about five kilometers from the Syrian border, the officials said because they were not authorized to give statements to the media.
Israel announced a 48-hour halt in aerial attacks Sunday around midnight that was believed to be effective immediately. But early Monday an Israeli army spokesman said the pause in overflights began at 2:00 a.m. local time.
Israeli officials earlier left open the possibility that Israel might hit targets to stop imminent attacks on Israel, and that the suspension could last less than 48 hours if the military completes its inquiry into Sunday’s incident in Qana before then.
It was not known what was hit in the Yanta area, where radical Syrian-backed Palestinian factions maintain bases in the mountains abutting the Syrian border.
The Israeli aerial suspension came hours after an Israeli air strike killed at least 56 civilians, most of them women and children in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, sparking an international uproar and fuelling demands for a ceasefire.
Shortly before the suspension, Israeli warplanes attacked for the second time in the last few days, a road between Lebanon and Syria just outside the Lebanese border post at Masnaa, severing the main artery between the two capitals. The Israeli military confirmed a highway attack near Syria but said it knew of no others.
The army said that the temporary cessation of aerial activity would allow the opening of corridors for 24 hours for Lebanese civilians who want to leave south Lebanon for the north and would maintain land, sea and air corridors for humanitarian assistance.
The attack on Qana brought Lebanon’s death toll to more than 510 and pushed American peace efforts to a crucial juncture, as fury at the United States flared in Lebanon. The Beirut government said it would no longer negotiate over a U.S. peace package without an unconditional ceasefire.
At the United Nations, the Security Council approved a statement expressing “extreme shock and distress” at the bloodshed and calling for an end to violence, stopping short of a demand for an immediate ceasefire.
In Qana, workers pulled dirt-covered bodies of young boys and girls – dressed in the shorts and T-shirts they had been sleeping in – out of the mangled wreckage of the three-story building.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting to debate a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire – a step Washington has stood nearly alone at the council in refusing until the disarmament of Hezbollah is assured.
In a jab at the United States, UN chief Kofi Annan told the council in unusually frank terms that he was “deeply dismayed” his previous calls for a halt were ignored. “Action is needed now before many more children, women and men become casualties of a conflict over which they have no control,” he said.
After news of the deaths emerged, Rice telephoned Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora and said she would stay in Jerusalem to continue work on a peace package, rather than make a planned Sunday visit to Beirut. Saniora said he told her not to come.
Rice decided to cut her Mideast trip short and return to Washington on Monday morning. Many in the Arab world and Europe see the United States as holding the key to the conflict, believing that Israel would have to stop its offensive – sparked by Hezbollah’s July 12 abduction of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid – if its top ally Washington insisted it had to.