Some of the fugitives believed to be in Jordan, West Bank

Army, police on high alert for Hamas ‘day of rage’ in support of escapees

IDF cancels leave in West Bank units, police put on second-highest level of alert amid threats of violent clashes, prison riots as manhunt continues for six prisoners on the run

A Palestinian youth carries a tire before setting it ablaze, during confrontations with Israeli security forces following a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, at the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus, on September 8, 2021. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
A Palestinian youth carries a tire before setting it ablaze, during confrontations with Israeli security forces following a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, at the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank town of Nablus, on September 8, 2021. (Photo by Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Soldiers and police officers were put on high alert over fears of widespread violence Friday, after the Hamas terror group declared a “day of rage” in solidarity with six Palestinian security prisoners who broke out of jail earlier this week and remain on the run.

The Israel Defense Forces canceled all leave for soldiers stationed in the West Bank as it geared up for possible clashes for the “day of rage,” set to start following Friday prayers.

Police meanwhile stepped up their alert status to the second-highest level across the country. They also diverted forces to bolster the prison services that have been faced with rioting inside prisons.

The six escaped from the high-security Gilboa Prison in northern Israel in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system in one of the most serious prison breaks in the country’s history, and prompting a massive manhunt in northern Israel and the West Bank.

Four of the six fugitives were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis; the sixth — a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, Zakaria Zubeidi — was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder. Another was held in administrative detention.

All six are considered highly dangerous.

Palestinians attend a rally in solidarity with the escape of the six Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli prison of Gilboa on September 8, 2021, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Israel Prisons Service said Thursday that inmates who were being held at Gilboa Prison — who were transferred to other facilities following the escape — will not return to that jail or any other facility in the north, and will instead be distributed among other prisons in the south and center of the country.

Prison authorities also said that they will be boosting security at the prisons including regular searches of cells, and will work to disperse Islamic Jihad prisoners among different facilities in order to separate them from each other.

Police believe that some of the suspects may have fled the country for Jordan — something Jordanian officials have denied — while Kan TV reported on Thursday that authorities believe a number of them are in the West Bank and are being aided by local Palestinians.

With significant military backup, Israeli security forces pressed on with the nationwide search on Thursday as it entered its fourth day.

According to Kan, the manhunt, which has seen roadblocks set up around several major Palestinian cities and in northern Israel, is expected to continue for “many more days.”

At the same time, Palestinians have held large-scale demonstrations across the West Bank and Jerusalem, some of them violent, in solidarity with the escaped security prisoners.

Thursday night saw clashes in the flashpoint city of Hebron, where dozens of  Palestinians threw rocks at Israel Defense Forces soldiers. There were no immediate reports of injuries. At least one Palestinian was arrested for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli troops.

Additionally, a number of prisons have seen rioting in response to increased restrictions in the wake of the jailbreak; police were said to be readying to help secure jails as the violence continued.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev vowed Thursday morning to capture the six, and to deal with the failures that allowed the prison break to happen.

“We will get our hands on the terrorist fugitives, we will correct the failures that led to the escapes — and if we find professional negligence, we will take care of that as well,” Barlev told reporters.

Evidence of blunders and negligence continued to emerge.

The six prisoners dug a tunnel from the shower basin in their cell, according to initial findings by the Israel Prisons Service, Kan reported.

The same prison saw an attempted jailbreak in 2014, in which inmates tried to dig a tunnel under their toilet. After that foiled attempt, the Prisons Service reinforced that area with concrete and metal and replaced the toilet bowls.

However, it didn’t reinforce or replace the equivalent area under the showers, according to the report.

A tunnel dug in the bathroom of a cell occupied by eight Islamic Jihad members at Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, on August 3, 2014. (Photo credit: Israel Prisons Service)

Further helping the escapees this time around, a guard tower overlooking the exit from the tunnel used in the escape was unmanned at the time of the prison break, according to a number of reports on Thursday.

The tunnel’s exit was just a few meters away from the guard tower. The Ynet news site said the reason for the post being unstaffed was unclear, and that a camera was pointed at the tunnel’s opening, but nobody was watching the video feed.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Haaretz newspaper reported that the tower had been vacant for over a month at the orders of the prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit due to a manpower shortage. Channel 13 news cited budgetary considerations.

In another nearby tower, the guard was asleep during the incident. Channel 13 news reported Thursday that the guard told her commanders that she heard noises, got up but couldn’t see anything, and went back to sleep.

Barlev said on Thursday that he had decided to form a government commission to probe the circumstances surrounding the prisoners’ escape.

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