| A member of the Lebanese civil defence unit shows the body of a child after taking it out of a building destroyed in the Israeli air strike in Qana on Sunday. (AFP)
Qana, Lebanon, July 30 (Reuters): An Israeli air strike today killed more than 60 Lebanese civilians, including at least 37 children, fuelling world pressure for a ceasefire.
The raid on the southern village of Qana is the bloodiest single attack during Israel’s 19-day-old war on Hizbollah.
The strike has drawn parallels to Israeli shelling in April 1996 that killed more than 100 civilians sheltering at the base of UN peacekeepers in Qana during Israel’s “Grapes of Wrath” bombing campaign against Hizbollah.
Rescue workers today dug through the rubble with their hands for hours, lifting out the twisted, dust-caked corpses of children.
A Lebanese foreign ministry official told an urgent session of the UN Security Council that more than 60 people were killed, mostly women and children. Police earlier put the toll at 54, 37 of them children. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to condemn the attack and call for an immediate end to hostilities.
“I am deeply dismayed that my earlier calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities were not heeded,” Annan said.
Israeli UN ambassador Dan Gillerman told the Security Council that Qana was “a hub for Hizbollah” and said Israel had beseeched the residents of the village to leave.
As anger convulsed Lebanon and the Arab world, protesters smashed their way into the UN headquarters in downtown Beirut as thousands massed outside chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America”.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, often at odds with Hizbollah, thanked its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and “all those who sacrifice their lives for the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon”.
Police said Qana, about 11 km from the border with Israel, was bombed at 1.30 am (2230 GMT Saturday). The raid flattened a three-storey building where more than 60 displaced people were in the basement. Many died as they slept.
“Why have they attacked one- and two-year-old children and defenceless women'” asked one bereaved man, Mohamed Samai.
Rescue workers lay a girl’s body on the ground and ran to search for more. They heaved hunks of concrete off a dead child crushed underneath. The rigid corpse of a young boy, his bloody face disfigured, lay near a pulverised building.
Hours later, rescuers were still clambering over rubble using their hands to extract corpses. Two mechanical diggers, one provided by U.N. peacekeepers, eventually joined the effort.
The bodies were wrapped tightly in plastic sheets and assembled under an awning. Flowers were placed on the corpses.
Hizbollah today vowed to retaliate. “This horrific massacre will not go without a response,” it said. The governing Palestinian movement Hamas also pledged to hit back with attacks on Israel.
Another Israeli air strike killed five civilians, including two children, in their house in the southern village of Yaroun. About 146 rockets hit Israel today, wounding six people. At least three slammed into the city of Haifa.
At least 561 people have been killed in Lebanon, although the health minister estimated the toll at 750, including unrecovered bodies. Fifty-one Israelis have also been killed.