PM: Gaza Blockade Remains Until Shalit Freed

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones that the economic blockade on the Gaza Strip will not be lifted until Hamas releases kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Cpl. Shalit was captured on June 25, 2006, when Gaza-based Palestinian terrorists tunneled under the border and attacked an army outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing, killing two soldiers, wounding three and abducting Shalit.

Before the two men met privately, they held a meeting with their staffers.

Israeli representatives included National Security Advisor Uzi Arad, Policy Planning Director Ron Dermer, newly appointed U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren and Yitzhak Molcho, serving as special envoy on Palestinian issues.

U.S. officials included National Security Council envoy Dennis Ross and NSC staffer Dan Shapiro, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Cunningham.

According to the Prime Minister's Office, the men held "effective" discussions on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, the Iranian nuclear program and other issues relevant to both Israel and the U.S.

Earlier in the day, Jones met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

The prime minister's decision did not affect a shipment of 300 tons of cement earlier Wednesday, which was transferred directly to UN officials and other international organizations in Gaza.

Some of the cement will be used for a new sewage treatment plant under construction in northern Gaza and some for a flour mill, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Israel is also allowing metal pipes to be transported to Gaza and it will continue to transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority to pay government workers' salaries.

Israeli defense officials said the cement would not wind up in the hands of the ruling Hamas party, which could be used to rebuild the group's terror infrastructure.

Source: The Jerusalem Post

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