Saniora reverses claim of 40 dead

Several reportedly killed in later airstrike; Syrian FM storms out of summit.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Late Monday evening IAF fighters struck targets in a Hizbullah-controlled neighborhood of Beirut. Security officials at the scene reported at least five dead and 20 others wounded. Earlier in the day, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said only one person had died in an earlier Israeli air raid on the southern village of Houla, reversing his earlier claim that 40 were killed there. Saniora reportedly broke into tears during opening remarks appealing to Arab League foreign ministers for help, saying that 40 had died in Houla. A security official later said there were about 30 people trapped and the death toll was not known.
The security official, who spoke anonymously, said rescue workers at the scene were trying to reach survivors who were calling out for help. He believed that among those trapped, more were alive than dead. Local television stations reported rescuers had pulled out 65 survivors, including 35 children, from under the rubble. Saniora disclosed the attack in the village, where heavy ground fighting between Hezbollah guerrillas and Israeli has been raging in recent days, in an impassioned opening address to a hastily convened meeting of Arab foreign ministers who met in Beirut to show solidarity with Lebanon's government and people who have been under intensive Israeli airstrikes since July 12. Syria's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, abruptly walked out of the meeting Monday. While leaving, he refused to answer reporters' questions. The reason for his departure was not immediately clear. On Sunday, Moallem told reporters that "Syria is ready for the possibility of a regional war" if Israel attacks his country. In his opening remarks to the ministers, Saniora had to interrupt his remarks several times to choke back tears and wipe his eyes. The ministers broke out in applause. He said Israel's attacks took "our country back decades. We are still in shock." The Arab foreign ministers' meeting comes as a US-French plan to end the Israel-Hizbullah fighting has opened deep divisions among Lebanese leaders. Moallem said Monday that the foreign ministers would discuss the possibility of holding an emergency summit on Lebanon later this week. Local media outlets had quoted Saudi sources as saying Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was expected to make the call for a summit during Monday's ministerial meeting in Beirut. Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper also said contacts were under way among Arab states to hold the summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, later this week. Moallem, speaking to reporters after meeting with his Lebanese counterpart Fawzi Salloukh early Monday, said Syria's position on holding an emergency summit meeting depended on the results of the foreign ministers' meeting. "We support, in principle, any Arab meeting that aims at supporting Lebanon's steadfastness and its heroic national resistance," he said. Moallem added, however, that Syria wants "practical measures" from Arab heads of state. "We want these measures to be practical. If this will be on the agenda of the emergency summit, then it is most welcome," he said. He did not elaborate on the nature of such measures. Reporters asked Moallem to explain why Venezuela had recalled its ambassador to Israel, while the two Arab states with peace treaties with Israel - Jordan and Egypt - have refused to do that. "I don't explain it but I say that we are grateful to the president of Venezuela for this step," Moallem said. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Thursday he was recalling his envoy to Israel to express his indignation at what he called the "genocide" Israel was committing in Lebanon. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa also said Arab ministers would discuss Monday the possibility of holding a summit. Moussa, who arrived in Beirut Sunday, added that chances for a summit would become clearer after the meeting of Arab foreign ministers. Moussa described Israeli threats to bomb Lebanese infrastructure and symbols of government as Israeli "arrogance sponsored by international parties." "But I don't think that their lunacy could reach the point of bombing symbols of Lebanese sovereignty," he said. The foreign ministers were expected to strongly back Lebanon at their meeting in Beirut. Moussa, following a meeting with President Emile Lahoud Monday, said the ministers would also consider whether those Arab countries with ambassadors in Israel should have them recalled. "This has become a widespread demand," he said.