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Russia calls for freeing of Israeli soldier

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, July 3 (Reuters) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Palestinian militants today to free an Israeli soldier while urging Israel to show restraint in its offensive in Gaza.

''The main thing now is to have the Israeli soldier freed. We are trying to facilitate this through every channel we have,'' Lavrov said after meeting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Moscow.

''We also urge the Israeli leadership to show restraint,'' Lavrov said. ''We expect the Palestinians to stop shelling Israeli towns,'' referring to daily cross-border rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip that have caused few casualties.

Israel has said no one in the Hamas-led government is immune from attack after the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit by gunmen in a cross-border raid on June 25.

Palestinian militants gave Israel less than 24 hours today to meet their demand to release Palestinian prisoners, threatening unspecified consequences if they refused.

Livni said Lavrov had sent ''a much needed signal'' and that she had debated whether to come to Moscow at such an important time.

''But I decided to come because Russia's role in this situation could be very important,'' Livni said.

''I am thankful to the Russian foreign minister who sent a much needed signal about the need to free the kidnapped soldier without conditions,'' Livni said.

REUTERS SHR ND1626

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