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Israel Airstrike Kills at Least 50 in Lebanon Town

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Israel Airstrike Kills at Least 50 in Lebanon Town

Middle East

Israel Airstrike Kills at Least 50 in Lebanon Town

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Any immediate prospect for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah suffered significant military and diplomatic setbacks today. In an attack on a village in southern Lebanon, Israeli warplanes killed more than 50 civilians, including at least 23 children, according to Lebanese officials. Wire Service reports said that at least 20 bodies were seen being removed from wreckage in the town of Qana.

From the Vatican to capitals throughout Europe and the Arab world, the attack was condemned and calls went out for an end to the conflict. On a visit to Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called for an emergency Security Council meeting to be held this morning.

The Lebanese government told Rice not to visit Beirut and that it would not participate in any further negotiations until a cease-fire was in place. Rice said she would return to Washington tomorrow.

Earlier this morning NPR's Mike Shuster called from northern Israel.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

I'm a couple of miles outside of the village - the town, really, the Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, which has again today been the target of several barrages of Hezbollah rockets coming from Lebanon. Where I am, there's been a great deal of return cannon fire from artillery and from tanks. There have been a number of Hezbollah rockets that have landed not far from where I am.

And then just up the road from Kiryat Shemona is the town of Matoula. And overnight, we've learned that a couple of hundred Israeli soldiers have gone in across the border into nearby Lebanese towns. And the Israelis have concentrated a fairly large fleet of heavy armor tanks and personnel - armored personnel carriers and combat earthmovers just inside the Lebanese borders. So there's a question of whether there might be, indeed, an additional ground offensive being planned.

HANSEN: What have you been able to learn about the situation in Qana?

SHUSTER: Well, what happened, as far as we know, is that an Israeli jet fighter dropped a bomb in the middle of the night in the town of Qana on a three-story apartment building. There were scores of people hiding inside in the basement.

(Soundbite of explosions)

SHUSTER: The building collapsed under this bomb and dozens of people were killed, many of them women and children. The Israelis say they did not target - they did not target civilians specifically. They say that Hezbollah has been launching hundreds of rockets from Qana in and around this area that was bombed. And they also say that - the Israelis also say that the civilian residents of Qana have been warned. There were leaflets dropped over the town, even telephone calls made to people - to civilians in Qana to leave. And the Israelis believe they should have left earlier.

HANSEN: Mike, what's that sound we're hearing in the background?

SHUSTER: The sound that we're hearing in the background now is outgoing artillery fire and tank fire from gun emplacements - Israeli gun emplacements nearby. There have been big booms of incoming Hezbollah rockets here, but during our interview you haven't heard any.

HANSEN: NPR's Mike Shuster, he joined us from northern Israel.

Mike, thank you very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Liane.

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