Officials Say 28 Died in Qana, Not 54
Five days after Israeli airstrikes demolished a building where dozens of people had taken shelter in the town of Qana, human rights investigators and medical authorities have confirmed 28 deaths, well below the official toll of 54.
A doctor at the government hospital in Tyre, where the bodies were being kept, said Thursday that there were 28 in the morgue, but that 13 people thought to have been in the basement of the building when it was bombed were listed as missing.
“They might be stuck [in the rubble], or they might have escaped,” said the doctor, Adeeb Waizani.
The deaths sparked a world outcry against Israel’s bombing campaign in Lebanon, which has been criticized for the high number of civilian casualties resulting from its pursuit of Hezbollah guerrillas.
The Israeli military concluded its inquiry into the Qana killings Thursday and said its forces were unaware that there were civilians in the building.
“Had the information indicated that civilians were present ... the attack would not have been carried out,” the military said in a written statement.
Investigators for Human Rights Watch said they discovered the apparent discrepancy in the death toll after interviewing witnesses, emergency workers and hospital officials.
The Lebanese Red Cross had reported early on that it had removed 28 bodies from the rubble, said Lucy Mair, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“The original 54 number actually came from the fact that one of the survivors was saying, ‘We were 63 people from two families camped out in the basement.’ They identified only nine living people, and immediately people started doing the subtraction,” she said.
But it appears that at least 22 people escaped from the basement, leaving 13 unaccounted for, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. One body may have been buried by family members and not taken to the morgue.
It is no longer clear whether the 13 listed as missing were in the building when it collapsed.
“The rescue teams say they’ve totally completed their operations and there are only 28 bodies,” Mair said.
Officials for the Red Cross and the Lebanese government said they had not revised the official death toll of 54 but were reexamining their figures and expected to have a final tally today.
Times staff writers Megan Stack in Tyre and Tracy Wilkinson in northern Israel contributed to this report.