Six Palestinians escaped from a Israeli prison on Monday through a tunnel dug under a sink, triggering a massive search for the group that includes a well-known ex-militant.
The Shawshank Redemption-esque escape was first discovered around 3am local time when locals spotted ‘suspicious signs’ outside the Gilboa prison in Northern Israel and raised the alarm.
The group of escapees includes Zakaria Zubeidi, a prominent former militant leader from the occupied West Bank, along with alleged fugitives of the Islamic Jihad movement.
Police, the army and agents from Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet have engaged the search effort, deploying sniffer dogs, drones, helicopters and checkpoints to create a perimeter around Gilboa.
Israeli media reports said it was possible the escapees had already retreated to the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967, while police spokesman said they might try to reach the Jordanian border roughly nine miles to the east.
In the hours following the escape, the IPS released footage that recalled the iconic 1994 prison escape film ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ showing agents inspecting a narrow tunnel dug beneath a sink in the Gilboa prison, burrowing deep into the ground.
The prison, located about 2 miles from the boundary with the occupied West Bank, is one of the highest-security jails in Israel and houses Palestinians convicted or suspected of ‘anti-Israeli activities’, including deadly attacks.
The jail break occurred hours before Israel begins its High Holiday season, starting with Jewish New Year which begins at sundown.
Four of the six men who escaped were serving life sentences, a Palestinian prisoners organisation said.
In addition to perimeter checkpoints and sniffer dog forces, security teams have been dispatched on horses to cover as much ground as possible as they track down the fugitives.
It is not yet known how the fugitives managed to dig the tunnel through the concrete and the ground below, as the maximum security prison does not even allow metal cutlery.
However, the Times of Israel reported the prison has long dealt with extensive and elaborate smuggling operations into its facilities, while the IPS has said it believes the man had help from allies on the outside and communicated through clandestine mobile phones.
6 Palestinian Militants Escape From High-security Israeli Prison. Hamas Mocks
Islamic Jihad, one of Gaza’s most powerful armed groups after Hamas, lauded the jail break as ‘a powerful blow to the occupation forces’.
The commander of the Israel Police’s Northern District said they had not given specific security advice to residents of the area surrounding the prison, but urged them to exercise increased vigilance.
‘There is no reason to change your routines, but there will be large numbers of troops within the cities of Afula and Beit She’an and in other towns. I do request additional awareness of anything suspicious,’ Northern District chief Shimon Ben Shabo said in a statement.
Zubeidi was the former head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and a well-known figure among Palestinians and Israelis.
He was arrested over ‘terror allegations’ in 2019 in a West Bank village near Ramallah, and had faced charges in the past from the Palestinian Authority for taking part in a shooting attack on the residence of Jenin Governor, Qaddura Musa in 2002.
Musa died after suffering a heart attack during the incident, and Palestinian security forces arrested dozens of people, including Zubeidi, shortly afterwards.
Zubeidi in 2007 agreed to lay down his arms and went on to help found the Freedom Theatre, an arts centre in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the northern West Bank.
In 2011, the Freedom Theatre’s well-known Israeli-Palestinian director Juliano Mer-Khamis was gunned down in Jenin’s refugee camp, in an attack that remains unsolved.
HAMAS MOCKS ISRAEL
Meanwhile, Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Israeli blockaded Gaza Strip, called the escape a ‘courageous and heroic act’ and a ‘real defeat’ for Israel’s security system.
‘This great victory proves again that the will and determination of our brave soldiers inside the prisons of the enemy cannot be defeated,’ said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.
ISRAEL PM Reacts
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke this morning with Public Security Minister Omer Barlev following the escape of security prisoners from Gilboa Prison and emphasized that this was a serious event that required a comprehensive effort by all of the security services.
Prime Minister Bennett is receiving regular updates regarding the search efforts for the terrorists and will hold consultations as necessary.