Israeli forces reportedly arrested three people on Tuesday for their suspected roles in helping a group of Palestinian security prisoners escape from prison, as the fugitives remained at large over a day after their disappearance.
Israel has launched a massive manhunt to capture the six prisoners, who are considered highly dangerous, after they broke out of the high-security Gilboa prison early Monday in what is considered to be among the most serious jailbreaks in the country’s history.
Police entered the neighboring Arab towns of Na’ura and Tamra, located northeast of Afula, and searched mosques, according to Hebrew and Palestinian media reports. Numerous checkpoints were placed in the area, Army Radio reported.
The three suspects were arrested in Na’ura, reports said. The detainees did not include any of the escaped prisoners themselves, but were suspected of helping them break out of the prison or flee the area afterward.
Authorities believe at least some of the escaped prisoners stopped in the town for a short time after their breakout and changed clothes there, Haaretz reported.
Police were also conducting searches in the Palestinian town of Jalamah, adjacent to the West Bank border fence, and near the Palestinian city of Jenin, the Walla news site reported. The escapees all hail from the Jenin area.
The Israel Defense Forces meanwhile deployed additional troops to the border with Jordan, as authorities suspected some of the fugitives would attempt to flee to Israel’s eastern neighbor.
“On both sides of the Jordanian border, vigilance and alertness have been increased for fear of terrorists crossing,” a military source from the IDF’s Central Command told Walla. “It is currently estimated that the escaped prisoners are hiding in the Beit She’an area, and have not crossed the border,” the source added.
Authorities also still suspect that the fugitives split up following the escape from Gilboa prison. They ran some 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) after exiting the hole dug underneath the prison walls, police officials said. There, some of them boarded a getaway vehicle, Channel 12 reported.
The six escapees include Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, who was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.
Another four escapees were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis and affiliation with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad warned on Tuesday that if there was any change to the conditions of prisoners being held in Israeli jails, especially its members, following the prison escape, it would respond.
“Harming the prisoners is a red line, and the occupation must carefully consider what we say and realize that we are ready and able to protect our prisoners by all means,” the terror group said in a statement.
The Israel Prisons Service on Tuesday moved hundreds of Palestinian Islamic Jihad prisoners between facilities and imposed new restrictions, Channel 12 reported.
According to Hebrew media reports, police and prison officials severely mismanaged the escape, with a litany of blunders allowing the breakout to occur in the first place, and a failure to grasp the severity of the situation for several hours after it occurred.
By Tuesday afternoon, at least 14 Prisons Service staff were reportedly questioned by the police on suspicion that they had assisted the escapees.
The six escaped via a tunnel in their cell’s drainage system, though officials said that a security flaw meant that they did not need to excavate to create a passage out.
Security officials are most concerned that the six men could carry out a terrorist attack against Israeli civilians, though leading figures have indicated that it is unlikely.