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Image prior models based on sparse and redundant representations are attracting more and more attention in the field of image restoration. The conventional sparsity-based methods enforce sparsity prior on small image patches independently. Unfortunately, these works neglected the contextual information between sparse representations of neighboring image patches. It limits the modeling capability of sparsity-based image prior, especially when the major structural information of the source image is lost in the following serious degradation process. In this paper, we utilize the contextual information of local patches (denoted as context-aware sparsity prior) to enhance the performance of sparsity-based restoration method. In addition, a unified framework based on the Markov random fields model is proposed to tune the local prior into a global one to deal with arbitrary size images. An iterative numerical solution is presented to solve the joint problem of model parameters estimation and sparse recovery. Finally, the experimental results on image denoising and super-resolution demonstrate the effectiveness and robustness of the proposed context-aware method.