AFP - Israel has dropped its demand for Palestinian militants to release soldier Gilad Shalit before it will end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas official told Egyptian television on Thursday.
Israel was no longer linking the release of Shalit, whom Gaza militants captured more than two years ago, to any move to end its blockade of Gaza, said the official, Ayman Taha.
Israel has repeatedly said it will end the blockade, imposed after the Palestinian militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas releases Shalit.
Taha, who was in Cairo for truce talks with Egyptian mediators, said Israel had dropped a number of demands for a truce since both Hamas and Israel declared ceasefires on January 18 to end a 22-day war in Gaza.
"Let me say what was proposed in the past and what is proposed now," he said. "It proposed the tying of Shalit with the issue of the passages, now it no longer proposes that."
Taha also said Israel was no longer demanding that Hamas sign a written agreement to end smuggling into Gaza.
Taha, who returned to Gaza on Thursday to consult with Hamas's leadership, said Hamas "had no problem" with the idea of an 18-month truce proposed by Egypt.
But another delegation member, Salah al-Bardawil, said Hamas had reservations about Israeli restrictions on goods it would allow through its crossings with the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
Bardawil told Egyptian television that Israel was proposing to allow "between 70 and 80" percent of goods into Gaza, barring those it said could be used to make weapons.
Bardawil said Israel would allow the rest of the goods -- which could include steel and concrete -- into Gaza once "there is an exchange of prisoners with Shalit."
But Taha, in response to a question whether Israel would only partially lift the blockade until Shalit is released, said: "No, it is no longer tied."
Egypt has tried to mediate a lasting truce after the war -- which killed at least 1,330 Palestinians and 13 Israelis -- ended. The fragile ceasefires have been tested by Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes.
After the Hamas delegation left Cairo, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the country's point man in the truce talks, held a meeting with Israeli defense ministry official Amos Gilad.
Hamas has said its delegation will return to Cairo on Sunday to present its final position.