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Palestinians burned a model of an Israeli prison in this West Bank city on Monday, marking the annual day of solidarity with prisoners by demanding release of their relatives and political leaders.
There were similar gatherings around the West Bank and Gaza. Demonstrators demanded that their leaders make the prisoner issue their top priority in dealing with Israel, which is holding more than 11,000 Palestinians, most on security charges.
In Hebron, the main city in the southern West Bank, about 3,000 people gathered. A sea of green, yellow and black flags, representing all the Palestinian factions hovered over their heads, and many held pictures of the most prominent Palestinian prisoners as well as their incarcerated relatives and burning a mock-up of a prison.
"We can't have peace while my son is behind bars," said Ziad Abu Ramouz, 58, whose son is serving a life sentence for shooting at Israelis.
In an open letter by the families and mothers of Palestinian prisoners, the relatives asked the Palestinian government to make the case of prisoners a top priority.
At a rally in Nablus in the northern West Bank, Nadera Abu Zanat, 65, from Nablus, clutched a portrait of her two sons "I feel imprisoned like them," she said crying.
In Gaza, thousands gathered in front of the parliament building, which was decorated with posters of the most prominent prisoners - Marwan Barghouti, a West Bank leader serving five life terms, Ahmed Saadat, whose faction claimed responsibility for the 2001 assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister, and Abdel Aziz Duaik, speaker of the parliament. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh addressed the crowd, calling for freedom for the prisoners.
The annual observance coincided with a push to resolve the issue of a captured Israeli soldier. On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicated he would agree to free large numbers of prisoners to win freedom for the soldier, taken when Hamas-linked militants tunneled under the Gaza-Israel border and attacked an army base, killing two other soldiers.
In an interview Monday with CBC television, Olmert said he would not agree to free 1,400 prisoners - the number quoted in media reports about Palestinian demands - but said the exchange would be according to "Middle East standards." Several times in the past, Israel has traded hundreds of prisoners for small numbers of its citizens.
The Israeli military said Monday it is holding 11,050 Palestinians - about 5,900 people convicted of security offenses and 2,233 who have not yet been tried. About 1,300 are imprisoned for criminal offenses, such as illegally entering Israel, and 800 are in administrative detention - imprisonment without trial on security grounds, the military said.
Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti told a weekend news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah that 4,575 prisoners have not been tried, including 40 members of the Palestinian legislature.
Barghouti said 376 are under the age of 18, while the Israeli Prisons Authority gave that figure as 371.
The two sides have diametrically opposing views of the prisoners. Palestinians see them as heroes of a struggle for statehood, but Israelis consider them terrorists who have killed hundreds of civilians.
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