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Rights watchdog revises Qana toll downward

The U.S.-based rights organization Human Rights Watch revised the death toll from an Israeli air strike at the Lebanese village of Qana at 28 and 13 people missing, well below the official Lebanese figure of 54 fatalities.
/ Source: Reuters

The U.S.-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch on Wednesday put the death toll from an Israeli air strike at the Lebanese village of Qana at 28 and 13 missing, below the official Lebanese figure of 54 dead.

The incident on July 30 was one of the deadliest strikes in the 22-day-old war between Israel and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah guerrillas and jolted international efforts to resolve the conflict.

“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,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday.

“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,” Human Right Watch said in a statement. It gave the names and ages of those killed.

The other 13 people were missing and presumed by some Qana residents to be buried in the rubble.

Of the 28 dead, 16 were children, Human Rights Watch said.

The group said it based its report in part on interviews with two witnesses to the Qana attack, one who was in the building during the strike and a second person who lived in the neighborhood and assisted in the recovery.

The U.N. Security Council on Sunday unanimously adopted a statement deploring the attack and asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to report within a week “on the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

Israel has called Qana a hub of Hezbollah activity, which some Lebanese sources have disputed.

Human Rights Watch said Israel had said the military targeted the house because Hezbollah fighters had fired rockets from the area. The group said its own researchers who visited Qana on July 31 did not find any destroyed military equipment in or near the home.

“Rescue workers recovered no bodies of apparent Hezbollah fighters from inside or near the building,” Human Rights Watch said.