Benedict calls for miracle as Qana toll reaches 54

Benedict XVI has called in the name of God for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah as the civilian toll from the Israeli air strike on an apartment block in the biblical town of Qana reached 54, including 37 children.

The Israeli air strike on a four-storey building in south Lebanon village of Qana was the bloodiest single attack during Israel's 19-day-old war on Hezbollah.

"In the name of God, I call to all those responsible for the cycle of violence to lay down their arms - both sides, and bring a halt to the violence," Benedict said.

Altogether 63 local residents, most of them children and women, were taking cover in an underground shelter of the building when two missiles fired by Israeli aircraft slammed into the building.

The building collapsed and buried the dead and the wounded in the rubble, which hindered the rescue effort, rescue workers reported.

The raid has prompted Lebanon to tell US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice she was unwelcome in Beirut before a ceasefire. Dr Rice, who was in Israel and had planned to go to Beirut later in the day, said she was saddened by the Qana air raid, but stopped well short of calling for an immediate ceasefire.

At least 542 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Lebanon in the war, although the health minister estimated the toll at 750 including unrecovered bodies. Fifty-one Israelis have also been killed.

Meanwhile, as the international community continues to focus on Israel's activities in Lebanon, the Holy Land's top Catholic clergyman has urged Israel to end its offensive in the Gaza Strip, saying the widespread killing and destruction have become senseless.

According to the Kuwait Times, Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, also asked the international community not to forget the crisis in Gaza as it focuses on Israel's much larger offensive in Lebanon against Hezbollah.

"The situation here is not human," Patriarch Sabbah said after giving a speech at a school in Gaza City and meeting with Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad. "Therefore, we call upon the Israelis, upon the international community to take their responsibilities," he said in halting English.

"Everything must stop in this city. All this demolishing, all this suffering. They have no reason at all, and they are not a way for peace or security. They are ways for more insecurity, more violence."

According to media reports, Israeli troops have killed 159 Palestinians since they started attacking the Gaza Strip to try to recover a captured Israeli soldier and stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into Israel.

A similar cross-border raid in northern Israel by Hezbollah led to the larger offensive in Lebanon.

Pope Calling for an Immediate Ceasefire (Arutz Sheva 30/7/06)
Catholic official urges end to Gaza offensive (Kuwait Times 30/7/06)
Qana raid death toll climbs to 54 (News.com.au, 31/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
2006 Qana Airstrike (Wikipedia)
Caritas Lebanon blog (now in English and French)

Asian and African migrants "abandoned" in Lebanon, Vatican says (CathNews 27/7/06)
Students taking lead for Middle East peace (CathNews 26/7/06)
Lebanese Maronite bishops plea for UN help (CathNews 25/7/06)
Caritas Lebanon slams milk factory attack (CathNews 21/7/06)
Advertise Lebanon evacuation plans, stranded priest tells Govt (CathNews 20/7/06)

Analysis: A second Qana Massacre? (BBC News 30/7/06)

31 Jul 2006