A man looks at the bodies of Lebanese victims recovered from the rubble of a building that was struck by Israeli missiles in the village of Qana. photo: NASSER NASSER/AP
JERUSALEM — Israel agreed to a 48-hour suspension of aerial activity over southern Lebanon after its bombing of a Lebanese village today killed a number of children.
The attack marred Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's mission to halt the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.
The suspension of over-flights was announced by State Department spokesman Adam Ereli. He said Israel has reserved the right to attack targets if it learns that attacks are being prepared against them.
"The United States welcomes this decision and hopes that it will help relieve the suffering of the children and families of southern Lebanon,'' Ereli told reporters traveling with Rice.
An Israeli government official, confirmed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a 48-hour halt in airstrikes on Lebanon. The official was speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the evolving situation, said Rice had been working on such an agreement for some time before the attack on Qana, Lebanon. The airstrike early today killed more than 50 people, including many children.
Ereli said that Israel will coordinate with the United Nations to allow a 24-hour period of safe passage for all residents of south Lebanon who want to leave the region.
"We expect that Israel will implement these decisions so as to significantly speed and improve the flow of humanitarian aid,'' he added.
The official said the 24 hours of safe passage could be renewed.
It was not immediately clear how much Israeli military activity the suspension would end. The official said only that the agreement covered aircraft, which would not rule out the use of ground troops or ground-based weapons systems.
The official said the Israeli government agreed to the suspension and that it was to take effect immediately.
"The decision was taken in light of the steadily deteriorating humanitarian situation in the area,'' the official said.
The suspension comes after Israeli missiles crushed several buildings where Lebanese villagers were sleeping today, killing at least 56 people, more than half of them children, in the deadliest attack of the campaign against Hezbollah.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to return early to Washington with her diplomatic mission derailed after Lebanese leaders told her not to come.
Lebanon's prime minister said his country would not talk to the Americans about anything but an unconditional cease-fire. Rice, in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli officials, said she was "deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life'' but stopped short of calling for an immediate end to the hostilities, saying: "We want a cease-fire as soon as possible.''
source: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/printstory.mpl/world/4082009 30jul2006