Israeli Missile Strike Kills 2 Palestinian Militants in Gaza

Israeli forces killed two Gaza militants in a missile strike early Thursday, bringing the two-day death toll in Gaza fighting to 11, hospital officials said.

Israel said it is targeting militants involved in firing rockets at Israeli border towns. Eleven rockets and two dozen mortar shells have hit Israel since Wednesday, the army said, despite warnings by Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he is moving closer to ordering a large-scale military offensive in Gaza. The rockets caused no injuries.

Last week, the Israeli government declared Gaza "hostile territory," setting the stage for a possible cutoff of electricity to the impoverished coastal territory that has 1.4 million residents.

On Wednesday, an Israeli missile strike targeted a jeep carrying members of the Army of Islam, a small militant group involved in the March kidnapping of a BBC journalist, since released, and the June 2006 capture of an Israeli soldier.

Five passengers were killed, the Army of Islam said. The Israeli military said the jeep was carrying rockets ready for use.

In northern Gaza, Israeli tanks and bulldozers briefly entered the town of Beit Hanoun on Wednesday, following rocket fire from the area. At one point, a tank shell was fired toward a group of people between two houses, killing four and wounding 25, witnesses and hospital doctors said.

The army said the shell was fired toward militants carrying anti-tank missiles.

Israeli forces withdrew from Beit Hanoun later Wednesday.

Early Thursday, Israeli aircraft fired a missile toward a group of militants near Beit Hanoun, killing two and wounding five, hospital doctors said.

David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said Israel's strikes are part of a "continuous policy of preventing terrorist activity against our civilians, including our taking pre-emptive measures as needed to thwart these attacks."

A top aide to the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said the Israeli operations strengthened the resolve of Gazans. "The honorable Palestinian blood shed by this Nazi army will only make us more steadfast," said the aide, Mohammed Madhoun.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military enforced a closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the weeklong Jewish holiday of Succot, which began at sunset Wednesday. Blanket closures, including travel bans within the Palestinian areas, are imposed during Jewish holidays, and restrictions are eased — though not lifted — once the holidays are over.