37 kids killed in raid, Israel sorry but says got to disarm Hezbollah

The war against Hezbollah may have taken a difficult turn after Israeli air strikes killed nearly 60 persons, including 37 children, in the south Lebanon village of Qana today, but Israel has no plans yet to put a stop to its ongoing campaign. More warnings have been issued to villages in southern Lebanon with Israel looking to move in ground troops to more villages.

Conceding that Israel can be partly held responsible for what happened, Israel's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Marke Regev told The Indian Express that Hezbollah too must share responsibility for this. "The UN Coordinator in Lebanon Jan Egeland has himself said that they (Hezbollah) cowardly hide behind women and children using them as human shields."

Describing the attacks at Qana as "terrible", he offered regrets saying Israel does not want to hurt innocent people. Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert too expressed his "sorrow" but made the point that Qana was the place from where rockets were being launched on Israeli cities in the north.

Dan Gillerman, Israel's Ambassador to the UN, said his country had "beseeched" residents to leave prior to Sunday's attack. "I am beseeching you not to play into their (Hezbollah's) hands, not to provide them with what they are seeking while sacrificing their own people as human shields and as victims."

"Every dead Lebanese child is a horrible mistake and a tragedy. For them (Hezbollah), every dead Israeli child is a victory and a cause for celebration," he said.

Tel Aviv's assessment is that over 12,000 rockets, provided by Iran and Syria, are with the Hezbollah in Lebanon. "This campaign will go until objectives of UNSC Resolution 1559 that require disarming of Hezbollah are achieved," says Regev.

The sense here is that a ceasefire which would give Hezbollah breathing space and chance to regroup would only be detrimental in the long run. And in fulfilling this objective, Israel is counting on the US which is still to endorse a call for immediate ceasefire.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Israel for the past couple of days, held detailed meetings with the top leadership here trying to knit an arrangement around a multi-national force and getting the Lebanese Army to station troops along the Israel-Lebanon border.

The Qana attack may, however, have shrunk the diplomatic space to seal such a solution with Lebanon cancelling Rice's visit to Beirut. Still, there have been no calls for an immediate ceasefire from Washington though an Emergency Session of the UNSC was underway to discuss the issue.

Israel, on the other hand, is planning to move in armoured columns and infantry into new villages in southern Lebanon which is corroborated by reports that the Israeli Defence Forces have issued fresh warnings asking villagers to vacate.

There is a feeling here that Israel may not have achieved the kind of tactical goals it set for itself in the campaign by way of demolishing Hizbollah militiamen, but it has managed to convey a strong message of deterrence.

The flip side, however, is that it could be losing the public relations war allowing Arab nations to rally around the Hizbollah. In that sense, Lebanon's refusal to host Rice has rung alarm bells.

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