TORONTO – The leaders of the world’s eight top industrial democracies on Saturday welcomed Israel’s decision to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip but called the current tensions in the Hamas-controlled territory “not sustainable.”

The countries – the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia – said in a joint statement that “current arrangements are not sustainable and must be changed.”

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The statement was released at the end of a meeting in Canada of the eight powers, and ahead of a meeting of a larger group of 20 nations, including China and India.

While expressing regret for the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara on May 31, the G-8 said it approved of Israel’s decision to set up an independent commission to investigate the incident.

In addition, the G-8 asked all parties to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1860 to guarantee the stream of humanitarian aid to Gaza, calling for a change to existing policies.

While welcoming the government’s decision to ease the Gaza blockade, it urged “full and effective implementation of this policy in order to address the needs of Gaza’s population for humanitarian and commercial goods, civilian reconstruction and infrastructure, and legitimate economic activity.”

The statement added, however, that Israel’s security concerns were legitimate and needed to be protected.

Reiterating its statement from the previous year, the G-8 demanded the immediate release of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, abducted four years ago on the Gaza border.

Additionally, the G-8 called on all states to implement UNSC resolution 1929 and expressed deep concern for Iran’s lack of transparency regarding its nuclear program and declared intention to enrich uranium to almost 20 percent.

“Our goal is to persuade Iran’s leaders to engage in a transparent dialogue about its nuclear activities and to meet Iran’s international obligations,” the statement said.

The G-8 statement on Iran came on the heels of the US House of Representatives vote for its own new and harsher sanctions against Teheran on Friday.

“After recent years of trying to work through the dual-track approach, the countries have decided to take more stringent actions against Iran despite hesitation from some, particularly Russia.

“It is not surprising that the countries decided to specify their support for UNSC 1929 because of recent activities and discussion on these issues. It will be interesting to see if these discussions are carried on to the G-20 in light of Brazil and Turkey’s recent activity on this issue,” said Jenilee Guebert, director of Research at the G-8 Research Group at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

During last year’s summit in L’Aquila, Italy, the G-8 urged Iran to comply with existing UNSC resolutions and the IAEA with regard to its nuclear program and emphasized their commitment to resolve the matter through diplomatic channels.

L’Aquila was also the first time the G-8 mentioned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name and condemned his declarations denying the Holocaust.

In March, G8 foreign ministers reiterated their support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and continued commitment to work toward the reduction of nuclear weapons and the cessation of all nuclear weapons test explosions. The foreign ministers’ statement echoed the G8’s past commitments to the NPT at the 2009 summit in L’Aquila, and in Hokkaido, Japan, in 2008.

The leaders turned to foreign policy matters after finding themselves at odds over how to continue to spur world economic growth in the aftermath of the worst recession since the 1930s. The countries were divided over whether to continue government stimulus spending, as the United States wants, or to cut mushrooming deficits, as Europe and Japan want.

On the March sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, the leaders cited a report that found that the ship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

The leaders said: “We condemn in this context the attack which led to the sinking of the Cheonan.”

Japanese officials said that the Russians were the only ones in the G-8 to resist tougher language condemning North Korea.

An official in the Russian delegation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the leaders were meeting, said that Russia still did not consider the results of the commission to be final and because of this, felt that condemning Pyongyang further could lead to negative consequences.

The G-8 communique, citing concerns they had raised at last year’s summit in Italy, said, “We urge the government of Iran to respect the rule of law and freedom of expression as outlined in the international treaties to which Iran is a party.”

On Afghanistan, the statement said that a conference in Kabul in July would be an important setting for assessing progress in implementing commitments made in January to train more than 100,000 additional security forces by the end of next year.

The G-8 leaders said it was important to accelerate efforts to make sure the country’s own security forces can “assume increasing responsibility within five years.”

AP contributed to this report.

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