The government freed 89 Palestinian prisoners Sunday, the first of about 300 expected to be released for the Muslim feast of Eid al Adha.
Some of the Palestinians held up copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, as they left prison to underline their continuing struggle against Israeli rule, said an inmate from the Ketziot prison in the Negev desert.
Israeli officials said those to be freed are mostly people who are nearing the end of their sentences for offenses committed in the 42-month Palestinian uprising.
They said the releases are a traditional gesture for the Muslim feast, which marks Abraham's offer to sacrifice his son for God.
As of last week, the army held 9,492 Arab security prisoners. Of these, 4,746 had been convicted and 634 were held under emergency regulations allowing up to a year's imprisonment without charge or trial. The others were awaiting charges or trial.