Word got out that the Palestinian police were holding several Israeli soldiers and that they may be part of an undercover unit that hunts Palestinian fugitives. The men were not in uniform, but that is not unusual for reserve soldiers, who usually get their uniforms only after they check in at the base.

An angry group of more than 1,000 Palestinians quickly surrounded the police station. At one point, people in the crowd began shouting: ``They've released them.''

That sparked some in the crowd to grab stones and glass bottles and hurl them at the station.

A senior police official was struck in the face and blood began to pour from his head.

The mob then smashed the gate to the police station.

Palestinian police tried to hold the crowd back, but they were also attacked, witnesses said. Palestinians said 15 policemen were hurt in the melee. Israel says that TV footage shows the policemen joining in the mob violence.

``I saw that people threw themselves on the body and I saw them pulling the body,'' said Ettie Wieseltier, a freelance Israeli TV producer who was at the scene with a foreign news team.

``I saw many people with knives. I saw a lot of knives with blood, and hands drenched in blood. And I saw them drag the body. I saw the knives and the anger in the eyes.''

The mob--some with bloodied hands--surrounded the bodies, some beating them with the broken bars of a window grille. One of the bodies was dragged out of the police compound and through the streets, witnesses said.

Two bodies were later handed over to the army. Military officials said they had been badly mutilated and one was beaten beyond recognition.

Hours later, Israeli helicopter gunships blasted Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza, including the building housing PLO leader Yasser Arafat's elite Force 17 bodyguard unit and Tanzim, the armed wing of Arafat's Fatah faction. Six Palestinian navy boats were also destroyed.

Most of the buildings were evacuated before they were struck and there were no reports of casualties.

In Ramallah, Palestinian youth scattered as the Israeli helicopters darted overhead, firing rockets. The rockets shattered the top floor of the building. Smoke poured out of the building and a burning smell filled the air.

Moments after the helicopters left, dozens of youths rushed to the demolished police station and one planted a Palestinian flag in the rubble of the building.

``Out struggle is only beginning,'' they chanted.