BEIRUT (AFP) – A mutiny at Lebanon’s largest prison in Rumieh during which prisoners took seven warders hostage ended peacefully early Friday, a security official told AFP. "The prisoners handed over the seven warders they were holding hostage and returned to their cells after having negotiated and handed over demands to the chief of internal security, Antoine Shakuri," the official said requesting anonymity.

The prisoners at Rumieh, eight kilometres (five miles) northeast of Beirut, were calling for an improvement in their prison conditions and a reduction in their sentences, he said. Most of the inmates were serving long sentences, or were on death row."General Rifi promised to examine ways of replying to these demands in the framework of the law," the official said. Earlier he said that the rioters had set fire to their cells in the block holding convicted inmates. An AFP photographer saw a plume of smoke billowing over the prison and troop transporters deployed inside the compound.

The mutiny broke out after a quarrel between a warder and a Palestinian prisoner got out of hand. Academic Omar al-Nashabi, who has carried out a study on the prison, told AFP that more than 4,000 prisoners were being held in the jail which was originally designed in 1971 to hold a maximum of 1,500.

"The building where the mutiny erupted houses nearly 950 prisoners, 225 of them foreigners, mainly Palestinians or Syrians," he said.

The security official said the disturbances did not affect the remand section of the prison where detainees suspected of taking part in a deadly Islamist uprising in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp last summer are being held.