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A new day of mourning

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops raided this northern Gaza town in a hunt for suspected militants Thursday, killing two Palestinian policemen with a pair of missiles fired from a helicopter.

Troops left Beit Hanoun after dawn Thursday, taking with them three wanted Palestinians who the army said had fired Qassam rockets at Israel border towns.

Beit Hanoun is close to the Israeli border, and Palestinian militants often launch mortar bombs and short-range Qassam rockets from there at Israeli targets.

The raid began after midnight. Ten tanks entered the outskirts of Beit Hanoun, surrounding police posts, witnesses said.

A gun battle erupted and an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a post from which shots had been fired at Israeli forces, said the Israeli commander of the operation, who would only give his rank and first name, Lt. Col. Nir.

Two Palestinian policemen were killed by the missiles, security officials said. Sixteen Palestinians were wounded, including eight members of the security forces.

Palestinians also detonated several bombs, the army said. It denied Palestinian reports that a tank was damaged or blown up during the incursion.

Ahmed Ismail, 28, a rescue worker, said Israeli forces kept medical teams out of the area. "Our cars came under fire three times when we tried to evacuate injured and dead people from the site," he told The Associated Press.

The army denied it prevented ambulances from entering the area. "I told them it was OK to enter with ambulances ... we saw the ambulances entering," Nir said.

In the past two months, Israel has frequently sent troops into Gaza towns and refugee camps. The army has said the purpose is to hunt militants from Hamas, an Islamic group responsible for dozens of attacks, including suicide bombings, that have killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis in more than two years of conflict.

Also in the Gaza Strip, some 700 Palestinians took to the streets Thursday, waving Iraqi and Palestinian flags and calling for an end to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Demonstrator Fatima Mukhtar, 55, who wore a headband with the inscription "We Love Saddam," said: "All of us believe that this is a time that America should be defeated and only he is capable of doing that and bringing back the hope and joy of thousands of families who are victims of Israeli and American terror."

In the West Bank city of Hebron, about 200 Palestinian marched in solidarity with Iraqi. "With our blood, with our soul, we will redeem you Saddam," they chanted as they waved Iraqi flags.

Also on Thursday, Israel dismissed comments by the Britain's foreign minister, Jack Straw, who suggested Western powers are guilty of a double standard in insisting Iraq implement U.N. resolutions, but not forcing Israel to do the same.

The Palestinians have long complained that Western nations enforce U.N. resolutions regarding Iraq with determination while not doing the same regarding Israel.

Asked about such contentions, Straw said earlier this week: "There is, and we'll deal with it, and I feel upset and angry about the plight of the Palestinians, but I also feel angry and upset about the terror under which the Israelis have had to live."

He cited U.N. Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from lands it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, but has not been implemented.

"It is our responsibility, yes, to deal with Iraq, and also, yes, to deal with the Israel-Palestine crisis," he said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yonatan Peled said Thursday the parallel was unacceptable. He said Straw was trying to "create linkage between a democratic country that wants peace, like Israel, and a threatening, warlike and dangerous dictatorship, like Iraq."