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Israeli air raid killing over 60 Lebanese civilians denounced as 'war crime'

[JURIST] Arab leaders have denounced as criminal and a breach of international law an Israeli air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana Sunday that killed over 60 civilians - mostly women and children - as the Middle East conflict [JURIST news archive] entered its nineteenth day. The death toll is the highest of any single incident involving non-combatants in the fighting so far. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora [BBC profile] immediately labeled the attack a "war crime." Arab League [official website, in Arabic; Wikipedia backgrounder] Secretary-General Amr Moussa [BBC profile] said in a statement that "aggressions by Israeli troops that target Lebanese civilians and infrastructure is a confirmation of Israel's hostile intentions, its insistence on ignoring its international commitments and its violation of international law." Jordan's King Abdullah II [official profile] joined in criticizing Israel, stating that the air raid "represents a flagrant violation of international law and conventions;" he urged "an immediate ceasefire and called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities in finding a way out of this crisis and put an end to the Israeli aggression."

Following the air strike, Lebanese officials told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [official profile], attempting to conduct shuttle diplomacy in the region, that they will not meet with her until there is a ceasefire. Rice had been expected to travel between Jerusalem and Beirut in a bid to stem the conflict. UPI has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

1:35 PM ET - Israel's Foreign Ministry has issued this statement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert:

I express my deep regret, shared by the entire State of Israel and the IDF, for the death of civilians in the village of Qana. Qana was used for launching rockets at Kiryat Shmona and Afula. All residents were warned to leave. There are hiding places for rockets inside the village, and the village itself constitutes a shelter for rocket launchers. We have no policy of killing innocent civilians. For 18 days thousands of missiles have been fired, aimed at murdering innocent civilians in the north.
An earlier communique [text] by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), featuring video of rockets being fired towards Israel from behind civilian buildings, said that deaths to civilians were "the result of Hizbullah terrorist organization's contemptible use of Lebanese civilians as human shields."

3:12 PM ET - In a statement [text] to the diplomatic corps Sunday, Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora repeated his call for an immediate ceasefire and pressed for "an international investigation into the continuing Israeli massacres in Lebanon, in violation of international laws and conventions and basic human decency."

4:45 PM ET - New York-based monitoring group Human Rights Watch Sunday condemned the Qana bombing, saying in a statement text] that "This latest, appalling loss of civilian life underscores the need for the U.N. Secretary-General to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious violations of international humanitarian law in the context of the current conflict.... [C]onsistent failure to distinguish combatants and civilians is a war crime." HRW added "Human Rights Watch has also documented Hezbollah’s deliberate and indiscriminate firing of Katyusha rockets into civilian areas in Israel, resulting in 18 civilian deaths to date. These serious violations of international humanitarian law are also war crimes." Executive Director Kenneth Roth said, however, that “War crimes by one party to a conflict never justify war crimes by another.”

5:10 PM ET - AP is reporting that Israel has agreed to suspend aerial action over south Lebanon for 48 hours while it investigates the Qana attack, according to a US State Department spokesman.

7:14 PM ET - The State Department has posted the full text of the statement by spokesman Adam Ereli in Jerusalem:
Israel has agreed to a 48-hour suspension of aerial activity in South Lebanon while it investigates today’s tragic incident in Qana. Israel has, of course, reserved the right to take action against targets preparing attacks against it.

During this time, Israel will coordinate with the UN to allow a 24-hour period of safe passage for all residents of South Lebanon who wish to leave. Humanitarian convoys remain in effect. We expect that Israel will implement these decisions so as to significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid.

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