Clashes in Hebron; Hamas calls for 'day of rage' Friday

Escaped security prisoners said to have dug tunnel from their cell’s shower

Prisons Service reinforced toilet areas after attempted 2014 jailbreak, but failed to do same in shower; authorities reportedly believe some escapees hiding in West Bank

In this photo provided by Israel's Prisons Service, a hole in a floor is seen after six Palestinian prisoners escaped from the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Israeli Prisons Service via AP)
In this photo provided by Israel's Prisons Service, a hole in a floor is seen after six Palestinian prisoners escaped from the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Israeli Prisons Service via AP)

The six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped Gilboa Prison earlier this week dug a tunnel from the shower basin in their cell, according to initial findings by the Israel Prisons Service, reported Thursday night by the Kan public broadcaster.

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.

The six escaped from the high-security prison in northern Israel in the predawn hours of Monday morning, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system in one of the most severe 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.

The six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from Gilboa prison on Monday, September 6, 2021. Clockwise from top left: Yaqoub Qadiri, Mohammad al-Arida, Mahmoud al-Arida, Iham Kamamji, Zakaria Zubeidi, and Munadil Nafiyat (Screenshot: Palestinian Prisoners’ Media Office)

Security officials said on Monday that they believe the prisoners were able to escape due to a flaw in the prison’s construction that left voids in the building.

Visiting Gilboa Prison that day, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said that the 2014 attempt was how security officials first realized the flaws in the building’s construction — and that it clearly was not adequately dealt with.

“I was in the cell that the prisoners escaped from,” Barlev told reporters. “On one side you can see the concrete that was added after 2014, and on the other side, past the shower corridor, there’s nothing there.”

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 after extensive investigation and before the prisoners could attempt to escape.

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.

While police believe that some of the suspects may have fled the country for Jordan, Kan reported on Thursday that authorities believe a number of them are still 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.

Israeli officers set up a roadblock at the Jezreel junction on Road 60 which leads to Jenin, in the search for six Palestinian prisoners who escaped the Gilboa prison earlier this week, on September 9, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

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 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.

Security officials were preparing for potential further violence on Friday, as the Hamas terror group called for a so-called “day of rage.”

Additionally, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that the matter of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails was a “red line.”

“There will be no peace or stability without the release of all of our prisoners and detainees. The prisoner issue is a red line,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah.

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