Relatives of inmates in Rumieh jail block a bus carrying police officers sent to quell a prison riot [REUTERS]

Two inmates of Lebanon's largest jail died on Wednesday after security forces stormed the facility to quell a prison riot. At least a further six were injured.

One prisoner died when a stun grenade he grabbed detonated in his hand, an unnamed security official told reporters. The second died of a heart attack during the raid, added the official.

The riot began on Saturday, when inmates of the overcrowded Rumieh prison, east of Beirut, burned mattresses and broke windows in protest at their continued incarceration. 

Detained without trial

"They are demanding an end to the overcrowding and a general pardon," said a security source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in line with state regulations.

"There are people who have been detained for months - and up to two years - without trials."

Rumieh was originally built to hold about 1,500 inmates, but is now crammed with about 3,700. Yet only 721 have been tried and convicted of crimes.

On Tuesday, prisoners took three guards hostage in one of the buildings. In another building, prisoners set fire to highly flammable material inside the kitchen, triggering a blaze which belched thick black smoke from the hilltop compound - despite heavy rain.

U-turn

The raid appeared to be a reversal of officials' positions the day previously, when police officials said that the guards were not in danger, and were merely being prevented from leaving the prison - used as bartering chips by the inmates.

Prison chaplain Father Marwan Ghanem, who was involved in negotiations to free the guards, told the AFP news agency the detained men were in good health and were being treated well.

"Authorities have been able to contact them to make sure they are okay," he said. "The inmates consider them as brothers and are holding them just to pressure authorities to respond to their demands."

Around 70 inmates' relatives protested outside the prison on Tuesday and Wednesday, setting tyres alight to cut off the main road leading to the complex.

They threw stones at the police who entered the jail complex in anti-riot gear.

Hostages freed

The raid freed the three guards and police are now in control of the facility, said officials.

Ziad Baroud, caretaker interior minister, said he sympathised with the prisoners' families and ordered a police office to be established within Rumieh to address complaints.

"I am very supportive of their demands," Baroud said on Tuesday. "We are working to deal with the matter without having one drop of blood spilled."

Poor conditions in prisons and a slow judicial process have sparked several riots in Lebanese jails. Some prisoners can be incarcerated for years before their cases come to court.

Source: Agencies