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Israel Links Gaza Blockade to Captured Soldier

Israel's foreign minister says his country should not lift its blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza unless the Palestinian militant group agrees to allow international relief workers to visit a captured Israeli soldier.

Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday Hamas leaders should provide the Red Cross with access to Gilad Shalit as a minimum condition for lifting the three-year-long blockade.

The French News Agency says Hamas rejected the conditions, calling the proposal an "attempt to mislead and cover up international efforts to break the siege."

Hamas captured Shalit in 2006. The Islamist militant group has previously demanded Israel free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier.

On Tuesday, Israel announced it was easing restrictions on some formerly banned food and personal items into Gaza. The announcement came shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Obama called the situation in the Gaza Strip "unsustainable" and urged Israel to ease its blockade.

Earlier this month, Israel drew international criticism after its soldiers killed nine pro-Palestinian activists who were part of a flotilla that was trying to break the blockade and deliver aid directly to Gaza.

On Thursday, representatives for Turkey and Arab nations meeting a conference in Istanbul issued a statement condemning Israel for the raid.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.