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Salah freed from Israeli jail

Dec. 12, 2010 1:54 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 13, 2010 12:49 P.M.)
RAMLA, Israel (AFP) - Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Salah was freed from jail Sunday after serving five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, a prison spokesman said.

The Palestinian-Israeli leader, who heads the northern wing of the Islamic Movement, was greeted as he left prison in Ramla near Tel Aviv by a crowd of supporters waving the movement's green bunting as well as Palestinian and Turkish flags, an AFP photographer said.

Speaking briefly to his supporters, he stressed he was the victim of "political persecution" for his defense of the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

He began serving his term on July 25 after being convicted of assault for an incident in Feb. 2007 in Jerusalem, in which court documents said he insulted a border policeman and spat in his face.

The assault, which Salah has always denied, took place during a protest outside the Dung Gate in the southern wall of the Old City where the Israeli authorities were carrying out restoration work near the mosque.

The compound is the third holiest site for Muslims and the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. It has been the scene of several outbreaks of violence over the course of the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Jerusalem court reduced his initial sentence of nine months to five.

Salah has been detained on a number of occasions, most recently after taking part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla stormed on May 31 by Israeli naval commandos in an operation which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance for its perceived links with the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, as well as with other groups around the world.

Israel's Palestinian community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made up of 160,000 Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 establishment of the Israeli state, and their descendants.
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