JERUSALEM—In the annals of the Middle East, certain sites carry symbolic and emotional import far beyond their geographic boundaries. One of them is Qana, the small Lebanese town now reeling from Sunday's deadly Israeli airstrike.
Ten years ago, Qana was the scene of another major tragedy, when Israel shelled a United Nations compound, killing 100 Lebanese civilians who'd sought shelter there.
Then, as now, Israel expressed its regret over the attack, but placed most of the blame on Hezbollah for using civilian area to fire its rockets. Israel said shelling the U.N. compound had been caused by "incorrect targeting based on erroneous data."
The attack, however, became a rallying cry for international outrage over the Israeli operation and a catalyst for cease-fire talks under the auspices of then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. That agreement barred Hezbollah from firing rockets into northern Israel or using civilian areas as launching pads. In exchange, Israel agreed not to fire at civilian targets in Lebanon.
But the deal fell short of meeting Israel's initial demand for the disarmament of Hezbollah. After the cease-fire was announced, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah claimed that his group had been strengthened by the conflict.
The shelling came during an Israeli campaign dubbed "Operation Grapes of Wrath," which Israel launched April 11, 1996, in an attempt to stop Hezbollah from firing Katyusha rockets into northern Israel.
A week into the campaign, on April 18, the Israeli military launched an operation against Hezbollah in Qana, where nearly 800 refugees from southern Lebanon had taken shelter in a U.N. compound.
After Hezbollah militants fired two Katyusha rockets from areas very near the U.N. compound, Israel responded with an artillery barrage. More than a dozen shells hit the compound.
It was nine days later that Israel, Lebanon and Syria agreed to a cease-fire. Over the entire 16-day Israeli operation, about 150 people were killed in Lebanon—with most of them dying in the Qana shelling. Hezbollah fired more than 600 Katyusha rockets into Israel, but no one was killed.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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