Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora denounced the attack as a "war crime," demanding an immediate ceasefire in a bloody conflict that has now killed more than 500 people and left a trail of destruction across the country.
Rescue workers with only their bare hands clawed through rubble of flattened homes to find survivors from the raid on Qana, launched just as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was back in the region pursuing a new round of diplomacy to try to end the conflict.
"At least 51 people were killed. They include 22 children," said Salam Daher, the Lebanese civil defense chief in the region.
"The bombing was so intense that no-one could move," said a distraught Ibrahim Shalhoub, 26. "I succeeded in getting out and everything collapsed. I have several members of the family inside and I do not think that there will be any other survivors." Israel, which has received staunch US backing since the conflict began on July 12, unleashed its firepower on Qana after flatly rejecting a UN call for a 72-hour truce to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to Lebanon.
"There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now," Siniora told reporters.
Lebanese officials also said that said Rice, who was holding more talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem today likely to focus on plans for an international force for Lebanon, was no longer expected to visit Beirut.
But Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met Rice yesterday, said Israel was in "no rush" to reach a ceasefire.
The army also rejected any responsibility for the civilian deaths in Qana, saying Hezbollah used the village as a base to launch rockets, and that residents had already been ordered to leave.
The village, said by some to be where Jesus turned water into wine, is also the site of an Israeli bombing of a UN base in April 1996 that killed 105 people during Israel's "Grapes of Wrath" offensive -- also aimed at wiping out Hezbollah.
Dozens of other villages in the region around the southern port city of Tyre were also bombarded for two hours overnight with fire from the Israeli navy, air force and artillery.
Israeli planes also tore up the Masnaa border crossing into Syria, leading to the closure of the main Damascus-Beirut route. Israeli ground troops also launched a new cross-border incursion and were engaged in fierce battles with Hezbollah guerrillas on the outskirts of the southeastern border village of Taibe.
About 30 rockets fired from south Lebanon also landed across towns in northern Israel early Sunday, without causing any injuries, police said.
The attacks came after defiant Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed to strike cities in the centre of the country if the Jewish state continued to attack civilians in Lebanon.