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Israeli general apologizes for civilian deaths

Palestinian hospital sources said about 150 people were wounded in the airstrike.
Palestinian hospital sources said about 150 people were wounded in the airstrike.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Senior Israeli military officials said Tuesday they were unaware civilians would be in the house struck in a pre-dawn raid that killed a Hamas leader and at least 14 others.

"Apparently, some civilians were killed, and we are very sorry about that," said Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, Israeli army's chief of operations. "We did not expect such results and if we had known ... we might would have aborted the mission."

Nine children -- including a 2-month-old baby -- were killed, the hospital sources said. Among the dead were Shehade's wife and three of his children, they said. Fifteen people were critically wounded.

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About 150 people were wounded during the attack.

Harel said that just a week earlier, the army was poised to strike against Salah Shehade, leader of Hamas' military wing, but it canceled the hit after discovering a civilian was with him.

Speaking in a not-for-attribution briefing, Israeli military sources told CNN the structure that was hit by an Israeli F-16 missile was not known to be Shehade's new home. In fact, the two-story house was thought to be empty, serving as a meeting place for Shehade and an assistant to plot out the final stages of a "mega suicide bombing."

Sources said the bombing was to take place in a matter of days against Israeli settlements inside Gaza.

Though the house was in a densely populated Gaza neighborhood, the Israelis thought using a precision missile would raze just the home and none of the adjacent structures, a source told CNN.

Palestinian sources said at least three other homes were destroyed. Israeli sources disagreed, but have not disputed the death toll and say they are investigating.

Thousands of Gaza residents poured into the streets to protest the attack, and Hamas has vowed revenge. But Harel said the attack was a case of self-defense.

"We remain determined to use our right of self-defense and act against terrorism," Harel said.

-- CNN Producer Pierre Klochendler contributed to this report.




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