Israeli strike kills 2 suspected militants in Gaza

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Palestinians gather around the wreckage of a car targeted in an airstrike in Gaza City, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. Two suspected Islamic militants were killed in an Israeli missile strike on their vehicle near a crowded public park in Gaza City on Thursday, a Palestinian health official said. Israel's military had no immediate comment. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli airstrike on a car near a crowded park in downtown Gaza City killed two militants on Thursday, the second missile strike this week after a period of relative calm.

Similar flare-ups have in the past escalated into a wider confrontations between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza. After Thursday's strike, Israel's military alleged the two men in the car had planned to infiltrate to attack soldiers and civilians, but provided no details.

It said one of the militants had been involved in a suicide bombing in Israel five years ago that killed three civilians. Hamas identified the second man as the nephew of the first and a member of the group's military wing.

The missile set off an explosion that turned the car into a ball of fire. Onlookers arriving moments later saw the body of a man sprawled near the vehicle with much of his head missing. A dismembered leg and hand of a second person lay on the ground nearby.

Five bystanders were wounded, said Adham Abu Salima, a Gaza Health Ministry official.

Gaza militant group the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades threatened "tough and painful revenge" for the killing of a senior member.

Hours later, a number of rockets landed in southern Israel. No casualties were reported.

Ihab Ghussein, spokesman for the Gaza Interior Ministry, said the airstrike was "an unjustified crime committed in a populated area and is part of a recent escalation against the Gaza Strip."

Israel repeatedly has targeted suspected militants in missile strikes, including an attack early Wednesday that killed one and wounded two.

In another source of friction, Jerusalem municipal officials said they will shut down a damaged walkway to a contested shrine at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a move that could touch off new violence between Muslims and Jews in the volatile holy city.

The municipality said the wooden walkway leading to one of the hilltop site's gates — built as a temporary structure after a centuries-old ramp was damaged in a 2004 snowstorm — is a fire hazard, structurally unsound and must be replaced.

Any work in the area around the Old City compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary draws fierce condemnation and sometimes violence from Palestinians, many of whom suspect Israel wants to harm Muslim shrines.

In a letter released Thursday, Jerusalem city engineer Shlomo Eshkol informed authorities of his plan to block access to the walkway to all but security forces. The shutdown could take place immediately after a one-week public comment period.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted a plan to demolish the walkway last month, fearing a backlash. A spokesman for Netanyahu had no comment on the municipality's decision.

Yusuf Natsheh, director of the Muslim clerical body known as the Waqf that runs the complex, said the Waqf was not consulted about the plans. He called it a "disastrous" policy liable to touch off protests.

"This is a very sensitive issue," he said. "It is so close to the mosque, and Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims ... all over the world will be unhappy." They think Israelis are "eradicating their historic road, they are eradicating their heritage" under the guise of security concerns, he said.

Nearly five years ago, hundreds of Israeli police fired stun grenades and tear gas to disperse thousands of Muslim worshippers who hurled stones, bottles and trash in outrage over Israeli repair work in the area.