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Dec 19, 10:27 AM EST

Israeli military says Gaza rocket hits Israel


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JERUSALEM (AP) -- A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck southern Israel on Friday, the Israeli military said, in the first such attack since September.

The military said air raid sirens were sounded in the Eshkol region bordering the Palestinian coastal territory. The projectile landed in an open field, causing no injuries or damage, according to police.

Israel fought a 50-day war this summer with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza. Hamas launched thousands of rockets and mortars toward Israel, which carried out an aerial campaign and a ground invasion.

The war left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and six civilians were killed.

Also Friday, fierce clashes erupted between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces at a West Bank military checkpoint and near the village of Turmus Aya, though no injuries were reported.

The village was the site of a Palestinian-Israeli scuffle earlier this month during which Palestinian Cabinet minister Ziad Abu Ain collapsed. He later died en route to hospital.

Palestinian and Israeli pathologists subsequently disagreed over the cause of Abu Ain's death. The Palestinian expert said the cause of death was a "blow," while his Israeli colleague said Abu Ain died of a heart attack.

In other developments, the Israeli military on Friday began relaxing travel restrictions for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the Christmas holiday season, saying it granted 700 permits for Gazans to travel to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Israel said it was also allowing West Bank Christians to travel to Israel, permitting 500 of them to visit their families in the Gaza Strip, subject to security checks.

Israel restricts Palestinians in the two territories from entering the country without special permits, citing security concerns. Travel between the territories is also restricted but those bans are usually relaxed for Christians during the holiday season.

The army also said it would also expand the working hours at military checkpoints to allow pilgrims from around the world faster access to the West Bank city of Bethlehem during Christmas.

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