(Beirut, August 2, 2006) – A preliminary Human Rights Watch investigation into the July 30 Israeli air strike in Qana found that 28 people are confirmed dead thus far, among them 16 children, Human Rights Watch said today.
The initial estimate of 54 persons killed was based on a register of 63 persons who had sought shelter in the basement of the building that was struck, and rescue teams having located nine survivors. It now appears that at least 22 people escaped the basement, and 28 are confirmed dead, according to records from the Lebanese Red Cross and the government hospital in Tyre.
Thirteen people remain missing, and some Qana residents fear they are buried in the rubble, although recovery efforts have stopped.
Human Rights Watch conducted detailed interviews with two witnesses to the Qana attack, including one person who was in the building during the strike, and a second person who lived in the neighborhood and assisted in the recovery effort.
According to Muhammad Mahmud Shalhub, a 61-year-old farmer who was in the basement during the attack, 63 members of the extended Shalhub and Hashim families sought shelter in three ground-floor rooms of a solid three-story building when the first bombs hit the village. Israeli planes began attacking the area in the early evening of July 29, he said, striking more than 50 times. He explained how, around 1 a.m. on July 30, an Israeli munition hit the ground floor of the home:
It felt like someone lifted the house. The ground floor of the house is 2.5 meters high. When the first strike hit, it hit below us and the whole house lifted, the rocket hit under the house. I was sitting by the door – it got very dusty and smoky – and we were all in shock. I was not injured and found myself [thrown] outside. There was a lot of screaming inside. When I tried to go back in, I couldn’t see because of the smoke. I started pushing people out; whomever I could find.
Five minutes later, another air strike came and hit the other side of the building, behind us. After the second strike, we could barely breathe and we couldn’t see anything. There were three rooms in the house where people were hiding [on the ground floor]. After the first strike, a lot of earth was pushed up into the rooms. We only managed to find some people in the first room.
Shalhub vigorously denied that any Hezbollah fighters were present in or around the home when the attack took place. All four roads to Qana village had been cut by Israeli bombs, he said, which would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Hezbollah to move rocket launchers into the village.
“If they [the IDF] really saw the rocket launcher, where did it go?” Shalhub said. “We showed Israel our dead; why don’t the Israelis show us the rocket launchers?”
Ghazi `Udaybi, another Qana villager who rushed to the house when it was hit at 1 a.m., gave an account consistent with Shalhub’s. He and others removed a number of people from the building after the first strike, he said, but they could remove no one else after the second strike hit five minutes later. “If Hezbollah was firing near the house, would a family of over 50 people just sit there?” he said to Human Rights Watch.
The Israeli government initially claimed that the military targeted the house because Hezbollah fighters had fired rockets from the area. Human Rights Watch researchers who visited Qana on July 31, the day after the attack, did not find any destroyed military equipment in or near the home. Similarly, none of the dozens of international journalists, rescue workers and international observers who visited Qana on July 30 and 31 reported seeing any evidence of Hezbollah military presence in or around the home. Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from inside or near the building.
The IDF subsequently changed its story, with one of Israel’s top military correspondents reporting on August 1 that, “It now appears that the military had no information on rockets launched from the site of the building, or the presence of Hezbollah men at the time.”
“Again and again, Israeli forces have fired at dubious military targets with a high civilian cost,” Whitson said. “Their brazen behavior has costs hundreds of lives.”
The names of those confirmed killed from Lebanese Red Cross and Tyre hospital records are:
- Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 55
- Ibrahim Hashim, 65
- Hasna' Hashim, 75
- `Ali Ahmad Hashim, 3
- `Abbas Ahmad Hashim, 9 months
- Hura’ Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 12
- Mahdi Mahmud Hashim, 68
- Zahra Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 2
- Ibrahim Ahmad Hashim, 7
- Ja`far Mahmud Hashim, 10
- Lina Muhammad Mahmud Shalhub, 30
- Nabila `Ali Amin Shalhub, 40
- `Ula Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 25
- Khadija `Ali Yusif, 31
- Taysir `Ali Shalhub, 39
- Zaynab Muhammad `Ali Amin Shalhub, 6
- Fatima Muhammad Hashim, 4
- `Ali Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 17
- Maryam Hassan Muhsin, 30
- `Afaf al-Zabad, 45
- Yahya Muhammad Qassim Shalhub, 9
- `Ali Muhammad Kassim Shalhub, 10
- Yusif Ahmad Mahmud Shalhub, 6
- Qassim Samih Shalhub, 9
- Hussain Ahmad Hashim, 12
- Qassim Muhammad Shalhub, 7
- Raqiyya Mahmud Shalhub, 7
- Raqiyya Muhammad Hashim, unknown