It is reported that Israel is to suspend air strikes in south Lebanon for 48 hours while it investigates the killing of more than 60 Lebanese civilians in an Israeli air strike on a residential building.

The move was announced by an aide to the US Secretary of State, following talks between Condoleezza Rice and Israeli officials in Jerusalem.

The US official also said Israel would also coordinate with the United Nations on a 24-hour period of 'safe passage' for civilians that wish to leave southern Lebanon.

There has been strong international condemnation of an Israeli air strike on the southern village of Qana.

The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged an emergency meeting of the Security Council to condemn the attack - the deadliest single incident in Israel's 19-day-old war against Hezbollah militants.

He again asked council members to put aside differences and call for an immediate ceasefire.

The US Ambassador John Bolton made it clear Washington would back only what it calls an 'enduring' negotiated ceasefire, not an immediate truce.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, told the Security Council that it should not play into Hezbollah's hands.

He said that Qana was 'a hub for Hezbollah' and that Israel had called on civilians to leave the area before this morning's attack.

Earlier, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, expressed regret at the killing of civilians in Qana.

However, he was reported to have told Condoleezza Rice that Israel wanted to continue its offensive for up to two more weeks.

The displaced families who were killed in the incident had been sheltering in the basement of a house which was crushed after a direct hit.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora denounced what he called 'Israeli war criminals' and cancelled talks with Dr Rice that had been scheduled for today.

Mr Siniora has said he would not hold any talks on resolving the crisis until Israel declared a ceasefire.

Mr Siniora said: '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.'

Dr Rice, has said it is time for a ceasefire between Israel and Hizbollah militants.

Hundreds of Lebanese protesters staged a violent demonstration, ransacking the UN Headquarters in Beirut.

Taoiseach comments on deaths in Qana

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern has expressed his shock at the loss of life.

He said: 'I am shocked and appalled at the news of the heavy loss of life in an Israeli airstrike on the village of Qana this morning. Reports indicate that the dead include a large number of children. I recall sadly that the people of Qana suffered a similar tragedy in 1996.

'This event strongly underlines the clear message the Government has been giving out which is that an immediate ceasefire on all sides is urgently necessary. Military actions are only making a solution more difficult.

'The Minister for Foreign Affairs will strongly represent Ireland's views at an emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.'

Five Hezbollah guerrillas killed in south Lebanon

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers killed five Hezbollah guerrillas during a new ground incursion into southern Lebanon this morning.

Tanks and troops exchanged fire with Hezbollah squads after crossing the border at the Israeli village of Metula in a search for guerrilla hideouts and rocket launchers.