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Israel halts airstrikes for 48 hours

Attack killing dozens of civilians in Lebanon called a 'mistake'

Emergency workers carry a body from rubble Sunday in Qana, Lebanon, after Israeli airstrikes.


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Middle East
Unrest, Conflicts and War

QANA, Lebanon (CNN) -- Israel agreed to halt airstrikes on southern Lebanon for 48 hours to investigate a Sunday raid that killed more than 60 civilians in Qana, Lebanon, an Israeli official said.

The airstrike on Qana threatened to derail work toward a resolution in the 19-day conflict between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas.

Israeli officials called the attack a tragic mistake, but Lebanon deemed it a war crime and canceled talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Israel reserved the right to take action against targets preparing attacks against it during the 48-hour period, the official said.

Israel will also arrange with U.N. officials to allow safe passage for 24 hours so residents of southern Lebanon can flee the region, the Israeli official said.

The official confirmed an earlier announcement by U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, who said the bombing halt should "significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid."

The move comes amid increasing calls for a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, which began July 12, when Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others.

In Israel, police officials said 134 Hezbollah rockets slammed into the Jewish state on Sunday. Officials reported 48 injuries, one of them serious.

The attack on Qana demolished a four-story residential building used as a shelter by Lebanese refugees. The dead included 37 children, according to Lebanese internal security officials. (Watch why Qana residents said they couldn't get out of harm's way [viewer discretion advised] -- 1:52)

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan again called for an "immediate cessation of hostilities" -- a call that has been resisted by the United States. (Full story)

The Security Council stopped short of that, calling for an end to the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and warning that continued fighting could have "grave consequences for the humanitarian situation."

A Security Council statement expressed the world body's "extreme shock and distress" at the Qana bombing and offered its condolences for the deaths.

In Beirut, outrage about the attack sparked violent protests at the U.N. compound. (Watch angry protesters use rocks, boards and poles to break into U.N. compound -- 2:30)

And in Gaza City, Palestinian security forces on Sunday ejected about 2,000 demonstrators who had stormed the U.N. compound protesting the Qana attack.

'We can't do anything for them'

The Israel Defense Forces said that residents of Qana had been warned to leave by radio announcements and by air-leaflets because it was a combat area.

Israeli officials said the airstrike was an accident and that its forces intended to target a nearby Hezbollah position. Military officials said an investigation was under way.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, called it a "horrible, tragic incident." But Gillerman said the dead were "victims of Hezbollah," which he said was using civilian buildings as cover to launch rockets into Israel.

"We are dealing with a ruthless, cynical, cruel enemy, one of the most monstrous terror organizations this world has known," he said. "They have no regard for Israeli life, and they have no regard for Lebanese life." (Watch Israeli video of prior Hezbollah rocket firings in south Lebanon -- 2:38)

"Clearly, we did not know the civilians were in the way," said IDF spokesman Jacob Dalal, who added that Israel was exercising its right to defend itself with its campaign of airstrikes.

Residents dug through the rubble with their hands, searching for survivors as bodies were removed.

A Lebanese emergency official -- speaking live on Al-Arabiya TV -- said rescuers lacked the heavy equipment to remove people trapped under the collapsed building.

"We can't do anything for them under the rubble because we do not have the right equipment," the unidentified official said.

Red Cross worker Sami Yazbak, who was helping to pull bodies from the building, said many of the children who were sleeping inside were handicapped. (Watch grieving Lebanese wail over loss of life -- 2:23)

Video broadcast by Arab TV showed the bloodied bodies of women and children who appeared to be wearing nightclothes. Many of the bodies were under rubble in the basement of the building.

Qana, 10 miles east of the southern Lebanese coastal city of Tyre, was the location of an attack by Israeli forces 10 years ago in which more than 100 Lebanese refugees were killed.

Lebanese PM condemns attack

The attack prompted an impassioned television address by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

"We scream out to our fellow Lebanese and to other Arab brothers and to the whole world to stand united in the face of the Israeli war criminals," he said.

Siniora called for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire and an international investigation, and rejected planned talks with Rice. After the announcement, Rice canceled her planned visit to Beirut. (Full story)

President Bush said Sunday the United States "mourns the loss of innocent life" and that all parties with a stake in the Mideast conflict "must work together to achieve a sustainable peace."

The Bush administration has refused to call for an immediate cease-fire, with officials saying they want a "sustainable" end to hostilities -- one that includes efforts to prevent future Hezbollah attacks against Israel.

Senior U.S. State Department officials said Rice will leave Jerusalem for Washington on Monday to negotiate a draft resolution to present to the Security Council this week aimed at bringing a halt to the crisis.

Bush said the United States is resolved to work with members of the Security Council to draw up "a resolution that will enable the region to have a sustainable peace," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office told Rice on Sunday that Israel needed 10 to 14 more days to complete its mission against Hezbollah militia.

Western reaction showed a split, with many calling for an immediate cease-fire, but the United States and Britain stopping short of supporting such calls. (Full story)

Rockets hit Israel

Twenty-four rockets landed Sunday in Akko, Nahariya, Kiryat Shimona, Metulla and in the upper part of the Galilee, police said.

Also Sunday, the Israeli military confirmed that its troops had moved into areas of southeast Lebanon -- Kfar Kela and Odayse -- as part of an operation to control the area between the Israeli border town of Metulla, in Israel's northeast, and Tyre.

Also, Israeli Defense Forces said Sunday its ground troops were operating in the border village of Taiyba in southeastern Lebanon, an area Israel said Hezbollah uses to launch rockets.

Troops have killed at least three Hezbollah militants and found stockpiles of rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, a cannon with shells and a machine gun, the IDF said.

Four Israeli soldiers were injured on Sunday when an anti-tank rocket hit their tank in southern Lebanon, an Israeli military spokesman said.

CNN's Nada Husseini, John King, Elise Labott, Richard Roth and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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