GLOBAL OUTRAGE GREETS ISRAEL "WAR CRIME" IN QANA
BEIRUT (AFP) - Israel's air strike on the Lebanese village of Qana sparked global outrage, with the UN Security Council deploring the deaths and Arab and Muslim leaders and thousands of livid protesters in the Middle East branding the assault a war crime.
Diplomats said the United States again forced the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to water down its statement so that Israel was not openly criticised.
But the statement said: "The Security Council strongly deplores this loss of innocent lives and the killing of all civilians in the present conflict and requests the secretary general to report to it within one week on the circumstances of this tragic incident."
Qatar, which proposed the statement, had wanted to call the attack "deliberate" and to call for a ceasefire.
The statement said: "The Security Council expresses its concern at the threat of escalation of violence with further grave consequences for the humanitarian situation, calls for and end to violence, and underscores the urgency of securing a lasting, permanent and sustainable ceasefire.
The final statement was agreed after the United States announced that Israel has agreed to suspend its air attacks for 48 hours pending an investigation into the Qana bombing.
The 15-nation council met in emergency session at the demand of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora after the Israeli raid left 52 people dead, including at least 30 children.
"We must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms, and I appeal to you to do likewise," Annan told the council.
"I'm deeply dismayed that my earlier calls for immediate cessation of hostilities were not heard, with the result that innocent lives continue to be taken and innocent civilians continue to suffer," he said.
In Lebanon, where the deadlist attack of the 19-day-old conflict killed at least 52 people, more than half of them children, the government accused Israel of war crimes and crimes against humanity as thousands of demonstrators attacked the UN headquarters in Beirut.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forced to cancel a visit to the Lebanese capital after a furious Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said there was no place for talks without an immediate ceasefire following the strike.
"These aggressions are crimes against humanity and war crimes in all senses of the words," Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said. "It is to hide their failure in achieving their military objectives."
Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa said he "strongly condemned Israel's ongoing barbaric attacks on Lebanon, the latest of which is the attack on the village of Qana."
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference said "the latest Israeli massacre amounts to a war crime and shows Israel's contempt for international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in times of war."
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, whose country has been involved in diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis, called Israel's attack "irresponsible" and reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire.
Jordan, another regional broker, also strongly condemned the raid. "This criminal aggression is a flagrant violation of international laws," said Jordan's King Abdullah II in a statement.
Iran blamed the bloody attack on Rice's visit to the region.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas condemned the attack and asked the United Nations to oversee an immediate ceasefire, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.
"Abu Mazen (Abbas) has called the Lebanese president and prime minister and offered his deepest condolences (for) the victims of the crime that was committed by Israel in Qana which he condemned in the strongest possible terms," he said.
Some 2,000 Palestinians protested in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The United Arab Emirates joined the chorus of condemnations of the "ugly massacre".
"This crime ... provides new proof of Israel's systematic policy of using its destructive weapons to kill in an indiscriminate way and without consideration for international laws and conventions that protect civilians," said Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Rice voiced deep sadness over the loss of "innocent" life in the attack and urged Israel to take "extraordinary care" to avoid civilian casualties.
She pledged to work for a ceasefire as soon as possible but again stopped short of demanding an immediate halt to hostilities. Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Rice said it was time to "get to a ceasefire" in Lebanon.
US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said the deaths were "tragic" but that they did not constitute a war crime.
"Not only do we feel sorrow for what happened in Qana, but also a determination that it is really important to remove the conditions that led to that," chief White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters Sunday.
Israel expressed "regret" over the civilian casualties but rejected increased international pressure for an immediate ceasefire. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the village was a "safe haven" for militants.
It ordered an inquiry into the incident, with one official suggesting the lethal blast could have been caused by Hezbollah explosives.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's personal representative in Lebanon was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the civilian deaths, and called for an immediate ceasefire and an investigation.
In Europe, Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, said it was "shocked and dismayed" by the strikes.
"There is no justification for attacks causing casualties among innocent civilians, most of them women and children," it said in a statement, echoing condemnations from Scandinavian and other European countries.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett described the Qana raids as "quite appalling" and said Britain had "repeatedly urged the Israelis to act proportionately".
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed "profound pity" for the victims, calling on Israel to observe "proportion" in its attacks and avoid civilian casualties, and reiterating calls for a swift ceasefire.
Britain and Germany issued a joint statement saying the events at Qana "have underlined the urgency of the need for a ceasefire as soon as possible."
French President Jacques Chirac condemned the bombing as an "unjustifiable action which shows more than ever the need to agree on an immediate ceasefire".
Spain announced that Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, a former EU Mideast envoy, would visit Lebanon on Wednesday out of "solidarity with the Lebanese people and government."
The governments of Italy and Ireland also expressed their consternation, as did Greence, saying: "Nothing can justify the massive slaughter of civilians."
Switzerland said it acknowledged the right of Israel to defend itself but added: "The operations should adhere strictly to the rules of international humitarian law."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said nothing could justify the Qana bombing, adding that the EU backed an "immediate ceasefire".
Morocco dubbed the attack "odious" and reiterated calls for the international community to press for an end to hostilities.
China "strongly condemned" the attack and reiterated calls for a ceasefire, state media said Sunday. A Chinese national was among four UN observers killed in an Israeli air strike in Lebanon last week.
Around 5,000 protesters marched in Belgium following the attacks, as did more than 600 in Paris.