The cabinet on Sunday voted in favor of imposing sanctions on Hamas prisoners held in Israel, in efforts to pressure the Islamist organization to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in Gaza since June 2006.

The spokesman of Hamas' military wing, Abu Obeida, threatened that the move would strengthen the Islamist group.

The decision "exposes Israel's distress," said Abu Obeida, adding that it would "only strengthen the organization's insistence on the conditions set for Shalit's release."

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann recommended stripping the Palestinian prisoners of all privileges not anchored in Israeli or international law, such as an education, television, newspapers and radio.

The Israel Prisons service announced at the weekly cabinet meeting that the recommendations will go into effect in the near future. The sanctions will include drastic limitations on family visits and the revocation of the opportunity to take high school matriculation exams or study at the open university.

In addition to sanctions on entertainment media, the prisoners will be subject to stricter guidelines regarding the transfer of money for use at the prison canteen.

During the meeting, Friedmann briefed the cabinet on legislature that would have to be instituted in order to take further steps. "It is true that we are the only democracy in the Middle East, but we can't let ourselves become the only suckers and we mustn't show weakness," Friedmann said.

Ahead of the meeting, Kadima Minister Meir Sheetrit said that "it is not conscionable that Shalit is living there without being able to see his parents, while Hamas prisoners live here almost like in a summer camp."

Mounir Mansour, the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Committee, said Sunday that the Hamas prisoners were considering taking extreme measures in response, including an unlimited hunger strike in every Israeli prison. The prisoners' families have also voiced readiness to take steps to identify with the prisoners.

Mansour told Israel Radio that the Israel Prisons Service began revoking privileges several days ago, before the cabinet approved the move, especially at the prison in central Israel. Their personal belongings were seized, Mansour said, they were prevented from seeing their families, they were not allowed to watch several Arabic-language television channels and several prisoners were put in solitary confinement.

According to Mansour, these steps will not expedite the release of Gilad Shalit, but rather will only exacerbate the already existing tensions within the prisons.