JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinians in a car near Gaza City yesterday narrowly escaped an Israeli helicopter missile attack on their vehicle, blasted into a heap of smoldering metal seconds after they jumped out, witnesses said.

The attack was an apparent attempt to kill Palestinian militants belonging to the Islamic Jihad group, Israeli media reported. The Israeli army would not comment.

During two years of Palestinian-Israeli violence, Israel has killed dozens of suspected militants in what it calls “targeted attacks,” claiming that it is preventing terror strikes. Palestinians charge that the practice amounts to assassination of their leaders, and human rights groups call it summary execution without judicial process.

The two passengers of the Mercedes sedan saw the Israeli helicopters overhead and managed to flee the vehicle before it was hit, witnesses said.

“Suddenly I saw a Mercedes driving fast down the road and it was hit by flames coming from the sky,” said Amina Daalasa, who lives nearby. Two missiles hit the car and one missed, hitting the road, Daalasa said.

The air strike came after two Palestinians were killed Saturday night as Israeli tanks and troops entered the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya and demolished three homes. One of the Palestinians, a 70-year-old man, unable to leave a home before Israeli bulldozers began toppling it, was buried under the rubble, witnesses said.

An army spokesman, Capt. Jacob Dallal, said soldiers routinely call on residents to evacuate buildings and troops search the premises before structures are destroyed.

The forces demolished three homes belonging to militants of the Islamic Jihad group who were responsible for attacks that killed 24 Israelis, the army said.

One Palestinian bystander who was watching from his balcony was shot dead during an intense exchange of gunfire, Palestinian witnesses said. The army said soldiers shot at and hit armed Palestinians.

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