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Dec 19, 6:30 PM EST

Israel carries out airstrike on Hamas site in Gaza


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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's military struck a Hamas site in the Gaza Strip early Saturday in its first airstrike on the Palestinian territory since this summer's war.

The Israeli military said the airstrike on what it called a "Hamas terror infrastructure site" in the southern Gaza Strip was in response to a rocket fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Friday. The rocket fire caused no injuries.

Palestinian residents reported hearing two explosions in the Khan Yunis region of Gaza, in an area that contains training sites for Palestinian militants. No injuries were immediately reported.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Israel's military "will not permit any attempt to undermine the security and jeopardize the well being of the civilians of Israel. The Hamas terrorist organization is responsible and accountable for today's attack against Israel."

The Gaza rocket attack and Israeli retaliation came days after a European Union court ordered Hamas removed from the EU terrorist list for procedural reasons, but said the bloc can maintain asset freezes against Hamas members for now. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas is "a murderous terror organization" and called for Hamas to be immediately returned to the list.

Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, fought a 50-day war this summer. In that war, 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.

In the West Bank on 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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Associated Press writer Fares Akram contributed to this report from Gaza City, Gaza Strip.

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