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Israel reopens West Bank crossing for first time since jailbreak

Jalama crossing has been closed since 6 Palestinian security prisoners, who have since been recaptured, escaped on September 6 from nearby Gilboa Prison

Israeli security forces stand guard at the Gilboa/Jalama checkpoint, located north of the West Bank town of Jenin, on October 24, 2015. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
Israeli security forces stand guard at the Gilboa/Jalama checkpoint, located north of the West Bank town of Jenin, on October 24, 2015. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Israel reopened a crossing with the West Bank on Wednesday for the first time since six Palestinian security prisoners tunneled out of a nearby prison, a rare escape that triggered a massive search before they were all recaptured.

COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees civilian affairs in the West Bank, said that the Jalama crossing into the northern West Bank would be open for the first time since September 6, when the prisoners escaped.

Six prisoners escaped Gilboa Prison in northern Israel through a shaft in the floor of their bathroom, in the biggest jailbreak of its kind in decades. They later split up into groups of two.

The final two escapees were caught in the West Bank city of Jenin in the predawn hours of Sunday morning, a week after the four other escaped prisoners were recaptured in northern Israel, bringing the massive 13-day manhunt to a close.

The six prisoners escaped from the high-security facility in northern Israel in the predawn hours of September 6, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison, in one of the most severe prison breaks in the country’s history, which prompted a massive manhunt in northern Israel and the West Bank.

The prisons service has faced significant criticism in the wake of the incident, with a reported series of blunders having enabled the six to escape, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

Five of the fugitives were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group. They were charged with various terror-related crimes, from illegal weapons trade, to kidnapping and murder. The sixth was Zakaria Zubeidi, a commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, who was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.

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