Photo Credit: Moshe Shai / Flash 90
Gilboa Prison, near Jezreel Valley (with Mt. Gilboa in the background),

Six security prisoners, all of them residents of Jenin, escaped from Gilboa (Shatta) Prison Sunday night, the Israel Prison Service reported. Among the prisoners was Zakaria Zabeidi, the former commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin.

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An IPS official on Monday morning said the escape was “a failure of a magnitude we hadn’t known at the IPS,” describing it as “the Yom Kippur of the organization. Under the noses of the prison commanders and the military intelligence, six prisoners have managed for such a long time to coordinate with outsiders an escape from prison and dig a tunnel.”

It appears that Zabeidi and five prisoners of the Islamic Jihad have managed in recent months to dig a tunnel that led outside the prison walls. According to a senior IPS official who spoke to Haaretz, Israeli farmers noticed the six men and reported them to the police, and only then did the prison learn of their disappearance. Large police, IDF, and Shin Bet forces are conducting extensive searches in the area.

Zabeidi is responsible for the murder and injury of many Israelis during the second intifada. According to Haaretz, there was intelligence on the prisoners’ plan to escape, and three of the prisoners were classified as high escape risks. Needless to say, the classification was on the money.

The head of the Gilboa Regional Council, Oved Nur, told Reshet Bet radio Monday morning, “Large forces are scanning the area, trying to track them down. We are instructed to increase vigilance and put emergency teams at the entrances to localities for identification. We should also sound a calming note, as there are a lot of forces on the ground, things are being handled.”

An initial inspection showed that the six fugitives were in the same cell together and that the length of the tunnel they dug reaches dozens of meters. The tunnel’s shaft was discovered a few meters outside the prison walls, hidden in a brush the inmates placed over it.

The defense establishment fears two outcomes: that the prisoners would carry out terrorist attacks; and that they would escape to Jordan. There’s also the possibility that they would embed themselves in one of the refugee camps and that the effort to capture them would result in a major clash with the local population.

All of Israel’s security prisons are on lockdown as of Monday morning, and prisoners are not allowed to leave their sections.

Update:

It is believed that two of the prisoners escaped to Jordan, and the rest to Jenin.

During their escape, they were spotted by someone passing by who saw someone suspicious looking and called the police. In addition, local farmers also reported them, thinking they were thieves.

Part of their escape tunnel utilized part of the existing infrastructure of the prison.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.