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Hamas Leader: Israel No Longer Links Shalit's Release with Lifting Gaza Blockade

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Israel no longer linked the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was hijacked by Palestinian militants two years ago, with lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip, senior Hamas leader Ayman Taha said on Thursday.

Israel had proposed to link the release of Shalit with the opening of Gaza passages, but now it no longer proposes that, Taha told Egyptian television.

However, no confirmation of this issue from the Israeli side are available at the moment as confusing information was reported on the indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israel for a lasting ceasefire.

According to earlier report, Hamas will give its final decision on Saturday on a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel.

The talks between a Hamas delegation and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who is in charge of the mediation talks, concluded Wednesday night.

Representatives of the Hamas team left for Damascus and Gaza Thursday for consultations with other Palestinian factions to adopt a final decision on the ceasefire.

The Hamas team will "return to Cairo on Saturday with a final decision," said MENA, citing a well-informed Egyptian source.

Meanwhile, on Thursday afternoon, Israeli Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau chief Amos Gilad was dispatched to Cairo following the Hamas' announcement that truce talks in Egypt had failed to reach a breakthrough.

(Xinhua News Agency February 6, 2009)

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