JERUSALEM Israel's cabinet decided on Sunday to withhold Hamas prisoners' leisure and educational privileges until the Islamist group frees a captive Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip, government officials said.

Egypt is trying to broker a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas that will secure the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid by Gaza militants in 2006.

Some 11,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails, including some 4,000 Hamas members, Israeli officials said.

Israel is holding 48 lawmakers and cabinet ministers from Hamas, an Islamist group that is classified under Israeli law as an illegal organisation. Thirty-six were tried by Israeli courts and another 12 have been held without trial.

Under a proposal approved by the cabinet, Hamas inmates will be denied access to television, radio, newspapers, telephones and online education, and their jail canteen allowances will be reduced. Israel will also limit the number of family visits the prisoners are allowed each month, the government officials said.

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said the restrictions would not breach international law and Israel would continue to allow Red Cross workers to visit Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Israel Radio reported that Palestinian prisoners had threatened to launch a hunger strike in protest at the move.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said the Israeli decision was “provocative and cheap” and would not force the group to soften its demands of Israel in any prisoner exchange deal. —Reuters

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