THE DEATHS of dozens of Lebanese civilians at Qana is a tragic event, and underscores the importance of finding a lasting peace in the Middle East.

But it also highlights the difference between Israel's military and the savage terrorists they are fighting, and which side is really the real barrier to peace.

Just after the news of Qana emerged, Israel immediately offered a sincere apology, acknowledged a tragic mistake and paused air strikes not in support of ground forces until it could investigate what went wrong.

Israel has been using unmanned drones to determine the location of Hezbollah installations and launching attacks on those sites. Once a site is identified, Israel has issued warnings in the area about the upcoming attack and urged residents to leave. Something in this process went wrong, and Israel has vowed to correct it to avoid civilian deaths as much as possible.

In contrast, Hezbollah has fired hundreds and hundreds of missiles into Israeli civilian areas indiscriminately - and made no argument that those missiles are intended to destroy anything but civilians. Hezbollah has shown no regret for civilian deaths, nor has it offered any warning to residents to let them escape.

It is no secret why Hezbollah shows no restraint. It exists for the sole purpose of wiping Israel off the map. In 1999, before anyone could have foreseen the current conflict, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said, "There is no solution to the conflict in this region except with the disappearance of Israel."

Hezbollah has done everything it can to make this vision come true, often launching attacks on Israeli civilians when the peace process was moving forward. In fact, it shelled Israel as the country was sitting down with Jordan to sign a permanent peace treaty.

There is no place for such a group in any lasting peace. Until the world can resolve to remove the scourge of Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations in the Mideast, any cease-fire will be hollow. Yes, there may be a temporary calm, but it will only allow Hezbollah to rebuild, regroup and restart its mission to indiscriminately kill Israelis. Israel, as any nation would, will respond in its defense, and the whole cycle will begin anew.

Rather than demonize Israel, the world should use the deaths at Qana as motivation to rally around the best chance for a strong and serious peace, by pressuring Lebanon, Syria, and Iran to dismantle Hezbollah.

Only then can we be guaranteed no Qanas occur in Lebanon, Israel or anywhere else.

Flavia Monteiro Colgan is a member of the Daily News editorial board.