Israeli forces operated around the northern West Bank city of Jenin overnight as searches continued for six fugitive Palestinian security prisoners who remained on the lam over a day after escaping prison.
Israel has launched a massive manhunt to capture the six, who are considered highly dangerous, after they broke out of the high-security Gilboa prison early Monday in what is considered to be among the most serious jailbreaks in the country’s history.
According to Palestinian reports Tuesday morning, the father and brother of one of the fugitives, Eham Kamamji, were summoned for questioning and asked to turn him in.
Kamamji, an operative for the Islamic Jihad terror group from Kufr Dan, was serving a life sentence for the murder of an Israeli teenager in 2006.
The reports said Israeli troops were carrying out searches in Bir al-Basha, the hometown of Yaqoub Qadir, another escapee and a fellow Islamic Jihad member imprisoned for planning terror attacks on Israelis.
The military also deployed additional troops to the border with Jordan and along the seam line separating Israel and the West Bank, according to the Walla news site, which said it was believed the six were still in Israeli territory.
However, the Haaretz daily reported the inability to locate the fugitives supported the police assessment that the six split up and had crossed the Green Line.
“The overriding goal is to get our hands on the six but it already needs to be said now that a lot of patience is required,” a police source was quoted saying by the newspaper.
As part of the search efforts, 89 police checkpoints were operating across Israel on Tuesday and a police source told Walla that the force was also considering the possibility the fugitives could try to flee to Gaza.
Since the escape, police and military officials have beefed up security nationwide, fearing that the escapees could carry out attacks against Israeli soldiers or civilians, or inspire copycat attacks, with some Palestinians celebrating the jailbreak.
Four of the six fugitives were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis; another — 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. All six were considered highly dangerous.
The escape is considered a highly symbolic success for the terror groups, security officials told Channel 12 news, and is being celebrated with “euphoria” among Palestinians, especially in the refugee camp of Jenin, the area from which all six come.
According to Hebrew media reports, police and prison officials severely mismanaged the situation, with a litany of blunders allowing the breakout to occur in the first place, and a failure to grasp the severity of the situation for several hours after it occurred.
The six escaped via a tunnel through their cell’s drainage system, though officials said that a security flaw meant that they did not need to excavate to create a passage out.
Security officials are most concerned that the six men could carry out a terrorist attack against Israeli civilians, though leading figures have indicated that it is unlikely.
According to a Ynet report, some defense officials believe the six men have crossed into the West Bank and are receiving assistance in remaining undetected from residents there.
However, police and prison officials have maintained publicly that they believe the suspects are still in Israeli territory, and are working to ensure they do not escape into Jordan.