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The IDF is looking into allegations raised over the past few days by several pro-Israel, Jewish and conservative Weblogs that Hizbullah may have staged aspects of the Kana tragedy on Sunday, in which some 60 Lebanese bodies were removed from a building that collapsed seven hours after being hit in an Israel Air Force strike.
The dead were mainly children, women and elderly people.
The International Committee of the Red Cross Mission in Israel said Tuesday that it would inform its Swiss headquarters about the allegations and seek to clarify the questions raised.
Israel has acknowledged hitting the building, and said 150 Katyushas had been fired from the village in the previous 20 days, with Hizbullah hiding rocket launchers in civilian buildings there. Israel said it did not know civilians were inside the building and expressed sorrow over the tragedy.
In a speech on Monday night, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he deeply regretted the deaths of civilians there. "We did not seek to harm them, we did not want their death," he said. "They were not our enemies, they were not the target of our aircraft."
At a press conference on Sunday night, Air Force Chief of Staff Brig.-Gen. Amir Eshel said the building was struck by IAF missiles a little after midnight, but only collapsed seven hours later, at about 7 a.m.
Eshel said he could not explain what caused the structure to collapse so many hours after it was hit, and speculated, while stressing that he had no conclusive evidence, about whether Hizbullah had played a role in what had transpired, perhaps by firing on the building itself.
Another possibility that has been raised is that the building sustained damage from the original strike, but collapsed only later from structural damage or the impact of further IAF strikes nearby. Alternatively, the building may have contained Hizbullah weaponry that detonated after the strike.
MK Benny Elon (National Union) suggested Tuesday that Hizbullah may have played a role in the building's collapse in an attempt to prevent an international force from entering Lebanon and to place blame on Israel.
"In general, Hizbullah prevents citizens from moving from places that the IDF is attacking. This time it was more," said Elon. "It wasn't just prohibiting citizens from leaving this time, it was bringing refugees that aren't residents of Kafr Kana to areas that they know are going to be attacked. And to be sure it's attacked, Hizbullah fires from the building next door in order to create the crisis and in order to create the pictures."
According to Elon, Hizbullah took such action in an attempt to recreate the situation at Kafr Kana in 1996, which resulted in a withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon.
"What they wanted to do was 'deja vu.' Last time, Kafr Kana was the end of the conflict... and this time they expected that the results would be the same: cease-fire," said Elon. "They needed the cease fire immediately because of the results of the war so far and their fear that UN Resolution 1559 can be enforced and fulfilled by the international force."
According to Elon, the IDF had "sources and information which were sure that civilians had left the area after warning pamphlets were dropped," but the information turned out to be mistaken.
According to one of the Web sites raising questions about the affair, Israel Insider, "the accumulating evidence suggests another explanation for what happened at Kana. The scenario would be a setup in which the time between the initial bombing near the building and morning reports of its collapse would have been used to 'plant' bodies killed in previous fighting... place them in the basement, and then engineer a 'controlled demolition' to fake another Israeli attack."
An official IDF spokesperson said the army was "aware of the rumors." Military sources would say nothing more on Tuesday than that they were looking into the swirl of allegations.
According to the blogs, perhaps the most suspicious element in the Kana affair was the fact that the dead children whose photographs appeared in the media displayed virtually no signs of blood, bruises or broken bones and, with one exception, were not caked with debris or pulverized cement.
For example, according to the antiliberal Conservative Yankee blog, "The child in the photo shows no signs of injuries - no blood, no disfigurement or crushing wounds consistent with a building collapse. The two men [carrying the child] show no signs of having been digging in rubble. Their clothes are unbelievably clean, especially the black fatigues that would so easily shown concrete dust."
Israel Insider cited a CNN report that, it said, noted the victims had died in their sleep. It seemed highly improbable, the piece asserted, that people could have slept "through thunderous Israeli air attacks. Rescue workers equipped with cameras," it went on, "were removing the bodies from the same opening in the collapsed structure.
Journalists were not allowed near the collapsed building... Israelis steeled to scenes of carnage from Palestinian suicide bombings and Hizbullah rocket attacks could not help but notice that these victims did not look like our victims. Their faces were ashen gray. While medical examination is clearly called for to arrive at a definitive dating and cause of their deaths, they do not appear to have died hours before. The bodies looked like they had been dead for days."
Several blogs maintained that such suspicions were strengthened by the fact that some of the bodies were in an apparent state of rigor mortis when they were dug out and that this state does not set in for several hours after death. An independent medical expert, however, said he could not draw any definitive conclusions on the basis of photographs he had viewed of the scene.
Other bloggers have ridiculed some of the claims raised on the sites, disputing that the photographs show long-dead victims or that the state of the corpses was inconsistent with death in a collapsing building.
A Lebanese Web site, Libanoscopie - associated with Christian elements and a supporter of an anti-Syrian movement called the "March 14 Forces" - asserted, by contrast, that Hizbullah deliberately drew IAF fire to the building having brought disabled children into it.
On Tuesday, The EU Referendum, a blog campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union, published an article entitled "Who is that Man?" The man in question, wearing the clothing and equipment of a rescue worker, appeared on the front pages of one newspaper after another, including The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, Arab News and the Gulf News.
It also displayed a picture of a rescue worker photographed at Kana during the bombing of a UN facility that killed over 100 Lebanese in 1996, and maintained that it was the same person. Another photo taken by Reuters allegedly showed the same rescue worker on Monday, a day after the Kana bombing, at Sreefa, 18 kilometers southeast of Tyre.
One day earlier, EU Referendum accused photographers of sensationalizing the disaster by taking allegedly posed photographs of rescue workers and victims. In the article, entitled "Milking It?" the blog showed a sequence of eight photographs taken by Reuters and AP showing the same rescue worker removing a baby from the destroyed building.
Two of the photos, one of which was transmitted by Reuters and the other by AP, show the same rescue worker and another, unidentified person holding the dead baby high above their shoulders so that photographers could get a good shot.
Asked about the charges included in these blogs, a Reuters spokesperson said, "We do not pose photos."
EU Referendum also charged that photos were staged because they were taken out of natural sequence. For example, AP published a photograph of a baby lying in an ambulance at 7:21. Three hours later, it published a photo of the same baby held by a rescue worker beside the ambulance, before it was placed in the ambulance.
However, the Reuters spokesperson explained that agencies do not transmit photos in chronological sequence. "Transition times are affected by a variety of factors, including the editing process and the work flow of the agency," the spokesperson explained.
Meanwhile, Bana Sayeh, the spokeswoman who works from the east Jerusalem office of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said she had been unaware of the "staging" claims, but would ask the Lebanese Red Cross about the bodies, how long they had been dead, whether there had been blood, whether autopsies had been carried out and other such questions. She also said she would inform the ICRC in Geneva about the allegations.
Sayeh said the ICRC was currently preparing a report on the Kana tragedy on the basis of data collected by professional Lebanese Red Cross staffers on the scene, as well as by ICRC representatives in that country.
"We are an objective organization, and we want to find out the truth, which we will soon make public. All the information is already in our legal department in Geneva. Everything will be clear, very clear," she said.