Dozens wounded in Israel prison riot - officials

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JERUSALEM, Oct 22 (Reuters) Dozens of people were wounded in violent clashes between Palestinian inmates and prison guards at an Israeli jail today, prison officials said.

At least 15 inmates and 15 guards were wounded during an early morning riot in a prison in Israel's southern Negev desert, an Israel Prisons Service spokeswoman said. One of the inmates was taken to a hospital in serious condition.

A Palestinian official involved in prisoner affairs said the estimated number of wounded inmates was 250.

The clashes come as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas try to narrow differences ahead of a US-sponsored conference on Palestinian statehood.

The issue of prisoners is a sensitive one for Palestinians, who see their nearly 11,000 brethren held in Israeli jails as fighters against foreign occupation.

The Palestinian cabinet of Western-backed Prime Minister Salam Fayyad blamed Israel for the violence and issued a statement saying it ''strongly condemns this barbarian aggression'' against the ''hero prisoners''.

The violence flared up when prison guards conducted a routine search for weapons in a tented complex housing 1,000 inmates, Eli Gabizon, commander of the Israel Prisons Service southern district, told Israel Radio.

During the riot, which lasted about an hour, inmates fought with Israeli guards and set tents ablaze, the spokeswoman said.

Palestinian member of parliament Issa Qaraqe told Reuters prisoners in Israeli jails would hold a one-day hunger strike on Tuesday to protest against the violence.

Islamist group Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, also said it would organise marches in the coastal enclave and the West Bank city of Hebron today to express solidarity with the inmates.

REUTERS AE HS2145

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