Cabinet minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former deputy defense minister, said Israel could not budge from its core demands: that Hezbollah be driven back from the frontier to a line beyond which it could not launch short- and medium-range rockets at Israel, and that the militant group release the two Israeli soldiers it captured July 12, sparking the offensive.
"What happened today was a tragedy," Ben-Eliezer said. "But this doesn't mean we should raise our hands and forfeit everything Israel has sacrificed so far. Stopping the operation would be a tremendous victory for Hezbollah, for Syria, and even more for Iran."
Others, though, argued that Israel should shift its focus from the battlefield to the bargaining table.
"We are trying to explain to the world that we don't mean it -- this didn't work in '96 and it's not working now," said leftist politician Yossi Beilin. "It is in our interest not to continue the [military] operation, but to seek important achievements through negotiation."
Most mainstream Israeli politicians described the event as an unavoidable tragedy given that Hezbollah had positioned itself among civilians, but a few said Israel should have held itself to a higher standard of ensuring civilian safety.
One of the strongest such observations came from dovish lawmaker Avshalom Vilan, a former officer in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit. He was quoted by Israel Radio as saying that even though the military intended no harm to civilians, "a black flag clearly waves over it." A black flag is an Israeli military term for an illegal order.
The strike in Qana also adds a difficult dimension to Israel's dealings with the Palestinians.
Thousands took to the streets in the Palestinian territories to denounce Israel and vow revenge. "Bomb Tel Aviv!" they chanted. Some Arab citizens of Israel joined in demonstrations.