Amid fears of more escape attempts, all prisons to be examined by engineers

Prisons Service hopes to prevent further use of structural flaws by inmates after embarrassing jailbreak; blueprints for at least one prison remained online despite escape

Police and journalists gather around a hole used by six Palestinians to escape from the Gilboa Prison, in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Police and journalists gather around a hole used by six Palestinians to escape from the Gilboa Prison, in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Engineering teams will conduct scans of every prison in the country starting on Sunday, in the wake of this week’s escape from northern Israel’s Gilboa Prison.

The Israel Prisons Service (IPS) has been heavily criticized, following the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners in the early hours of Monday morning, for the many lapses that allowed it to happen.

A key source of embarrassment was that the six — four of which had been caught by Saturday — had fled the jail by tunneling through their cell’s drainage system and into an empty space in the foundations of the prison, through which they rather easily crawled beyond its walls.

Even more damning was the revelation that the IPS had been aware of the infrastructural flaw, as it had been similarly targeted in a failed escape plan in 2014.

The blueprints for Gilboa Prison, along with several other IPS facilities, were also readily available online ahead of the escape. On Saturday night, six days after the prison break, the plans for one prison — Shikma Prison, near Ashkelon — remained on the internet, until a report on the matted by Channel 13 news prompted the Israel Prisons Service to have it removed.

IPS chief Katy Perry instructed the engineering examination following a situational assessment with senior IPS officials on Saturday.

The operation will be conducted by “special engineering teams, in coordination with the Israel Defense Forces, and building and engineering experts,” the IPS said in a statement.

The statement added that the IPS is prepared to move prisoners between facilities, in accordance with “operational needs and security assessments.”

Following Monday’s jailbreak, the IPS began to move inmates affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad between facilities and into individual cells, in an attempt to prevent another escape attempt. Five of the escapees were members of Islamic Jihad.

Unrest escalated in the prisons over the apparent new restrictions, with a number of cells being set on fire by security inmates.

A burnt prison cell is seen at Ketziot Prison following rioting by Palestinian security prisoners there, on September 8, 2021 (Courtesy)

Four of the six escapees from Gilboa prison, including notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi, were caught by security forces on Friday night and early Saturday morning.

The same prison saw an attempted jailbreak in 2014, in which inmates tried to dig a tunnel under their toilet. Two of the recent escapees were reportedly also involved in the attempt seven years ago.

In the 2014 attempted escape, eight prisoners were suspected of collaborating on digging a tunnel under a bathroom that they shared. Prison guards uncovered the tunnel before the prisoners could attempt the escape.

Last week, using a similar strategy, the escape was successful. Officials said that the security flaw meant that they did not need to excavate much to create a passage out.

The escape exposed a series of failures at the prison, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said on Thursday that he had decided to form a government commission to probe the incident.

Among the apparent lapses were failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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