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Fleeing Lebanon villagers caught in Israeli inferno

July 15, 2006

Fleeing Lebanon villagers caught in Israeli inferno

By Hussein Saad

TYRE, Lebanon (Reuters) - The child was holding a sandwich when an Israeli missile killed him and 19 other people fleeing their Lebanese border village in a van. 

Two little blackened hands could be seen still clutching the bread to the child's chest when U.N. peacekeepers recovered the corpse along with the bodies of some of the others. 

A United Nations medic holds a body that was badly charred and destroyed after an Israeli missile hit a van carrying passengers on a road in southern Lebanon, July 15, 2006. (REUTERS/Haidar Hawila)
Half the passengers were children or teenagers, according to medical sources. 

It was the deadliest single strike since Israel launched an air campaign against Lebanon after two of its soldiers were captured by Hizbollah militants on Wednesday. 

Relatives gathered at a hospital to identify the dead said they came from two families -- Abdallah and Ghanem -- and were trying to escape their village of Marwaheen. 

The families had fled after the Israeli army told residents they had just hours to leave. 

Around 100 residents showed up at a nearby base of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) seeking shelter but went home after officials were unable to confirm the warning by Israel, UNFIL spokesman Milos Strugar told Reuters. 

Other residents had tried later to leave and were killed in the missile strike, Strugar said, adding Lebanese authorities had asked UNIFIL to help evacuate 120-160 people remaining in Marwaheen. They would be relocated in the morning. 

Relatives blamed UNIFIL for the deaths, pelting peacekeepers with stones when they arrived with the bodies after the strike. 

"If they had taken people in to begin with then they would never have died," said Mohammed Oqla, who was at the hospital. 

At least 97 civilians have been killed and some 300 wounded by Israeli strikes in the bloodiest violence since its 1996 Grapes of Wrath campaign aimed at ending Hizbollah attacks on Israeli troops who then occupied southern Lebanon. 

In that campaign, 106 Lebanese civilians were killed when Israeli aircraft struck a base run by U.N. peacekeepers in Qana where villagers had sought shelter. 

The deaths increased international pressure on the Jewish state that resulted in an understanding that neither Hizbollah nor Israel would target civilians. 

Four Israeli civilians have been killed by Hizbollah rockets fired into northern Israel since Wednesday. 

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