SPENCER MICHELS: Tens of thousands of Palestinians turned out in Gaza City today, to mourn the 15 people killed in last night's Israeli air attack. One demonstrator carried the body of a two-month-old, and another vowed, "We will kill their children like they killed ours." Also killed, the intended target: 48-year-old Salah Shehadeh. He headed the military wing of the radical Islamic group Hamas, and was at the top of Israel's most-wanted list.
The Israeli attack targeted Shehadeh's apartment building, killing his wife, teenage daughter, and bodyguard, among others. It also wounded more than 140 people who lived in the crowded city block that was flattened. Shehadeh masterminded dozens of Palestinian suicide bombings in the last two years, according to both Israelis and Palestinians. Last night's attack came a day after Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Yassin publicly discussed a cease-fire. But today he withdrew that offer.
SHEIKH YASSIN (Translated): There are no peace initiatives, and we're not going to talk about any initiative now, until the enemy pays the price for this ugly crime.
SPENCER MICHELS: Reporter: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned what he called a "massacre."
YASSER ARAFAT (Translated): I ask the whole world, how can you be silent and not stop these crimes against our people, especially at a time when we have resumed our positive contacts, including the meeting between five of our ministers and the Israeli foreign minister?
SPENCER MICHELS: Today, as Israelis in Jerusalem and elsewhere prepared for an almost certain violent reprisal, Israel's head of military operations apologized for the civilian deaths, but not for Shehadeh's.
MAJ. GEN. DAN HAREL: Unfortunately, along with him died several civilians; apparently innocent. And we are very sorry for it. We didn't hope for such results. But yet, we are determined to use our right for self defense, and to act against terrorism wherever it is.
SPENCER MICHELS: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly approved the strike personally.
ARIEL SHARON (Translated): We hit perhaps the most senior Hamas figure on the operational side. We, of course, have no interest in harming civilians, and we are always sorry when civilians are hurt. But the point is that this operation was, in my view, one of the biggest successes.
SPENCER MICHELS: At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "this is an instance where the U.S. and Israel do not see eye to eye."
ARI FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly that Israel needs to be mindful of the consequences of its actions in order to preserve the path to peace in the Middle East. The President views this as a heavy-handed action that is not consistent with dedication to peace in the Middle East.
REPORTER: Israel's response to that has been, in a war, as is the United States, and in war innocent lives are lost. What is the difference, from the President's perspective, in Israel's action in Gaza and United States actions against al-Qaida and Afghanistan, where innocent lives have also been lost?
ARI FLEISCHER: It isn't accurate to compare the two. And the crucial difference here being that in this instance in Gaza, this was a deliberate attack against a building in which civilians were known to be located. And that does separate it from the activities taken.
SPENCER MICHELS: Later, Fleischer called President Bush a "big defender" of Israel. Elsewhere, the European Union and the United Nations issued their own condemnations of the Israeli attack.