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Hamas Suspends Prisoner Exchange Talks With Israel

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip have suspended prisoner exchange talks with Israel that would free an Israeli soldier in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

The Hamas declaration to suspend the prisoner exchange talks came after Israel decided to keep cargo crossing points with the Gaza Strip closed - in retaliation for continued rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against southern Israel.

The talks are supposed to lead to freedom for Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who was seized from his Gaza border post two years ago by Palestinian militants. Egypt has been brokering talks that would see Schalit freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners that Israel holds.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri says the Israeli closure is a violation of the Gaza truce between Israel and Palestinian militants that went into effect on June 19.

"Hamas has decided to suspend negotiations for the release of Schalit because of the closure of the border roads which is a violation of the terms of the ceasefire," he said.

Another round of talks on freeing Schalit was supposed to have taken place on Saturday in Cairo.

A spokesman for Israel's military says the latest border closure, which took effect on Thursday, was provoked by continued rocket fire, which he says is a violation of the truce.

The truce calls for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at Israel, and for Israel to open crossings into Gaza. Upon completion of the prisoner exchange, Egypt has pledged to re-open its border crossing with Gaza at Rafah.

Meanwhile Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak has issued demolition orders for the homes of two East Jerusalem Arabs who carried out attacks against Israelis. The homes belong to the families of a man who gunned down eight Jewish seminary students in March and the man who killed three Israelis on Wednesday with a bulldozer in the heart of Jerusalem. Israel's attorney general ruled the demolitions can take place but noted the demolitions could raise "significant legal problems." Human rights groups say they will appeal the demolition orders.