The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations called on Thursday for the immediately release of Gilad Shalit, after Egyptian-brokered talks to secure the kidnapped Israeli soldier's release had come to a standstill.

The G8, meeting in Italy, also called for the immediate opening of the Gaza Strip's border crossings to allow the entry of humanitarian aid, goods and people into the Hamas-ruled territory. The nations added that this move must not compromise Israel's safety.

The call came as an Egyptian official charged with mediating between Israel and the Palestinians for Shalit's release visited Ramallah on Thursday for talks with Palestinian Authority leaders.

General Mohammed Ibrahim serves as deputy to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, and has been working alongside him on attempts to bring rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah into reconciliatory talks.

A senior Israeli defense official, meanwhile, made his way to Egypt for discussions in Cairo Thursday on the situation in the Gaza Strip and on the Palestinian unity talks. Israel Radio quoted Egyptian sources as saying that Amos Gilad, the head of the political-security bureau at the Defense Ministry, discussed efforts to secure Shalit's release during the trip.

On Wednesday, Israeli defense sources said that a freeze in reconciliation negotiations between the rival Palestinian factions has also brought efforts to negotiate Shalit's release to a standstill. The soldier has been in Hamas captivity since he was abducted in a 2006 cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.

The sources say the likelihood of a speedy deal to release Shalit is slim.

Recent optimistic statements made by Egyptian mediators and American and European officials were based on Cairo's efforts to reconcile the two rival Palestinian factions.

Egypt stated officially last month that it was planning to bring the parties to sign a reconciliation agreement on July 7. But the Hamas-Fatah talks stagnated more than a week ago and their scheduled resumption on July 25 is doubtful, following the objection of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Other PA leaders want to delay talks until August.

Egypt's hope of bringing about Shalit's release was also based on its expectations of brokering an internal Palestinian reconciliation. The Egyptians hoped that such an agreement and its achievements would have generated a positive atmosphere that would have encouraged Hamas to be flexible about Shalit.

The Egyptian-brokered talks between Israel and Hamas are to be resumed soon with the participation of Hagai Hadas, the prime minister's newly appointed negotiator for Shalit's release, Egyptian sources reported earlier this week.