Thirty-four members of Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood, including seven members of the leadership, walked out of prison Sunday after relatives of prisoners overcame the guards, a Brotherhood official said.
The relatives stormed the prison in Wadi el-Natroun, 120 km northwest of Cairo, and set free several thousand of the inmates, Brotherhood office manager Mohamed Osama said. No one was hurt, he added.
"They are on their way to Cairo," he said. The seven leaders are from the Brotherhood's Guidance Council and they were arrested on Thursday night and Friday morning during preparations for the massive protests on Friday against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Osama named them as Mohamed Mursi, Essam el-Erian, Mohamed el-Katatni, Saad el-Husseini, Mustafa el-Ghoneimi, Muhyi Hamed and Mahmoud Abu Zeid.
Prisoners have escaped from several major prisons across Egypt since the protests on Friday, when police morale and discipline started to break down. In many parts of Egypt police have abandoned their stations.
Earlier Sunday, three Palestinian security prisoners reportedly escaped back to the Gaza Strip via a smuggling tunnel.
Officials in Gaza said the three, including at least one Hamas member, had fled during the upheaval and returned to the coastal territory.
Egypt meanwhile kept its border with the Hamas-ruled territory closed on Sunday amid the raging turmoil. Palestinian border official Ghazi Hamad said that the closure was expected to last several days.
Thousands of inmates escaped prisons across Egypt on Sunday, including at least one jail that housed Muslim militants northwest of Cairo, security officials said.
The breakouts added to the chaos engulfing the country as anti-government protests continue to demand the ouster of longtime authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak.
The security officials said the prisoners escaped overnight from four jails after starting fires and clashing with guards. The inmates were helped by gangs of armed men who attacked the prisons, firing at guards in gun battles that lasted hours.
The officials said several inmates were killed and wounded during the escapes, but gave no specific figures. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share the information with the media.