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Lawyers for two Palestinian fugitives claim they were beaten during recapture

Zubeidi had jaw fractured, two ribs broken during arrest, lawyer says; police deny allegation, say he resisted arrest

In this photo provided by Israel Police, Israeli security forces stand next to escaped Palestinian security prisoners Zakaria Zubeidi (left) and Mohammed al-Arida, blindfolded and handcuffed after being recaptured in the northern Arab town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam, on September 11, 2021. (Israeli Police via AP)
In this photo provided by Israel Police, Israeli security forces stand next to escaped Palestinian security prisoners Zakaria Zubeidi (left) and Mohammed al-Arida, blindfolded and handcuffed after being recaptured in the northern Arab town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam, on September 11, 2021. (Israeli Police via AP)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Lawyers for two Palestinian security prisoners who were captured after escaping from an Israeli prison last week said Wednesday that their clients were badly beaten during their arrest, with the most well-known of the prisoners, Zakaria Zubeidi, suffering a broken jaw and two broken ribs while in handcuffs.

Police said Zubeidi resisted arrest, and had to be subdued by force, and also that he was injured in the course of the jailbreak.

Six Palestinian prisoners, five of whom have been accused of deadly attacks against Israelis, tunneled out of a maximum-security prison in northern Israel on September 6, in the first mass prison break in decades. Four were recaptured around five days later, apparently while hiding outdoors.

The escape from Gilboa prison in northern Israel exposed a series of security blunders and mishaps and was hailed by Palestinians as a show of defiance against Israel. Two of the prisoners are still at large.

Lawyers were able to meet with the recaptured prisoners for the first time late Tuesday and early Wednesday, providing the first opportunity to hear of the escape from the prisoners themselves, rather than Israeli officials and media reports.

A veteran Israeli human rights lawyer representing 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 — said that the security personnel who arrested him handcuffed him and then asked his name.

“He said Zakaria, and then he was beaten very badly,” Avigdor Feldman told The Associated Press. Israel police denied the allegation.

Feldman said that Zubeidi was taken to a hospital where he was given painkillers for the fractures in his jaw and two ribs. Feldman said that there were no further abuses during days of interrogation.

Israeli civil rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman. (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

A lawyer for Mohammed al-Arida, who was captured along with Zubeidi, said that his client was beaten during his arrest before being taken to a nearby police station, where he was stripped naked and subjected to hours of interrogation. The lawyer, Khaled Mahajneh, told the local Al-Jarmaq news outlet that his client has a visible head wound and has been continuously interrogated since then with little sleep.

“He doesn’t even know what day it is,” Mahajneh said.

Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Fatah terrorist recaptured after breaking out of Gilboa Prison with five other security prisoners, arrives for a hearing at the District Court in Nazareth, on September 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israeli police declined to comment. The Shin Bet internal security service, which is currently holding the recaptured prisoners, did not respond to requests for comment.

Lawyers for the escapees described a far less sophisticated plot than initially suspected, saying that their clients had no plan for what to do once they tunneled out of the prison.

They said that the escapees did not seek help from local Arab residents to avoid getting them into trouble with authorities and were not given any outside assistance. Instead, they kept to rural areas and tried to live off the land, eating wild fruit and waiting for things to settle down.

Israeli officials have said that the escapees sought help from local Arab residents, including with transportation to the West Bank, but were rebuffed.

“They didn’t have any intention to commit any kind of terrorist attack,” Feldman said.

The lawyer for Mahmoud al-Arida, another recaptured prisoner, said that his client was the architect of the escape and that work on the tunnel began last December.

The six prisoners went to a mosque in a nearby village after the escape and then split into three groups, the lawyer, Raslan Mahajneh, told Palestine TV. He said that they tried to enter the West Bank but were unable to because of the heavy Israeli security presence along the frontier.

He said that his client was being interrogated for up to eight hours a day but was not tortured or deprived of sleep.

Mohammed al-Arida and Zubeidi grew exhausted after they were unable to find water, leading to their arrest, Arida’s lawyer said. The two were found hiding in a truck parking lot in the Arab town of Umm al-Ghanam. The other two were arrested hours earlier in the nearby Arab city of Nazareth.

Israeli media have reported that local residents tipped off police, leading to the capture of the four prisoners. The lawyers for the Aridas disputed that, saying security forces stumbled on them by chance.

Palestinians have celebrated the escape and held demonstrations in support of the escapees.

Four of the six escaped prisoners, including the Aridas, were serving life sentences after being convicted on terrorism charges by Israeli military courts. All six were members of the Islamic Jihad militant group except for Zubeidi.

Feldman said that Zubeidi, who is awaiting trial on terrorism charges dating back to the height of the Second Intifada uprising, was only invited to take part in the escape two days before it happened and did not expect it to succeed. “He was amazed at how easy it was to escape,” Feldman said.

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