Image: Sheik Raed Salah
Oded Balilty  /  AP
Sheik Raed Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic movement in Israel,  atcenter, is surrounded by supporters after his release Sunday from Ayalon prison.
updated 12/12/2010 12:21:15 PM ET 2010-12-12T17:21:15

Israeli prison authorities on Sunday released a radical Muslim leader after serving a five-month term for assaulting a policeman.

Hundreds of people greeted Sheik Raed Salah as he was freed from prison in this central Israeli town. The sheik is known for his hardline stance against the Jewish state. He lives in central Israel and leads a Muslim movement that has thousands of followers in the country.

Salah was imprisoned for assaulting a police officer and leading a violent demonstration near Jerusalem's Old City. He was protesting Israeli renovation work near the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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"I do not regret a single second in prison," Salah told the crowd of mostly middle-aged men who crowded to shake his hand, hug him and kiss him reverentially on the cheeks. "Nothing is more righteous than the cause of Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem."

The crowd responded with its own cheers, "We'll sacrifice ourself for Al-Aqsa, Oh Raed!"

Salah has had repeated run-ins with Israeli authorities. He was imprisoned previously for funneling money to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Arabs are around one-fifth of Israel's population of more than 7.6 million. They are citizens but have suffered decades of discrimination. In recent years, some have slowly migrated to hardline groups including Salah's Northern Islamic Movement.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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