"This is a shocking tragedy," Yossi Beilin, a leftist member of the Israeli parliament, said of Wednesday's killings. "The moral and diplomatic price Israel will pay for this operation far exceeds any achievement."
Hamas' militant reaction undermined two efforts by moderate Palestinians to overcome a Western aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority. A Palestinian diplomatic mission had been touring Europe this week to argue that aid, halted when Hamas came to power this spring without dropping its refusal to recognize Israel, should be restored because Hamas intended to refrain from attacking the Jewish state.
Citing a three-day mourning period for the victims, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader, suspended talks on a proposal by President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah party, to appoint a "unity" government led by a nonpartisan prime minister more palatable to the West.
The killings also brought a temporary halt to criticism of Hamas by its rivals.
"Yes, there is a serious problem with Kassam rockets," Sufian abu Zaida, a senior Fatah activist, said in an interview with Israel Radio. "But when I see the massacre that occurred in Beit Hanoun, I will speak no criticism [of Hamas]. When children are killed in their sleep, this is a massacre."
Times staff writer Boudreaux reported from Jerusalem and special correspondent Alouf from Beit Hanoun.