Israeli officials were surprised by the ease with which the last two Palestinian security inmates who had escaped from Gilboa Prison were arrested in Sunday’s early morning military operation in Jenin, expecting more resistance from gunmen in the West Bank city.
“They apparently realized they had no means of escape… they knew well what would happen if they had tried to run. It’s no coincidence that they turned themselves in without a fight,” a senior officer who oversaw the operation to capture the two told Channel 12 news.
“I had expected a rather harder fight… I’m surprised it went so easily,” added the officer, identified only by the Hebrew initial “Shin.”
The arrest of the two fugitives — Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terror group — brought to a close a massive 13-day manhunt following one of the worst jailbreaks in Israel’s history.
The two were located in a building in the eastern part of Jenin that was owned by a member of the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah faction, Hebrew-language media reports said.
But more surprising was that Nafiyat had left Jenin’s refugee camp, having spent a number of days in the area that is largely a no-go area for Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces, and moved to the more exposed east of the city.
Armed Palestinians from the Islamic Jihad in Jenin refugee camp: “we send a message to Israel that we are united”. pic.twitter.com/iG24uzyGr2
— Alaa Daraghme (@AlaaDaraghme) September 6, 2021
Nafiyat joined Kamamji just one night before their arrest in eastern Jenin, an unnamed security official told the Kan public broadcaster.
It was unclear why he left the more protected refugee camp, making it apparently easier for Israeli forces to arrest him, with little to no violent confrontation.
Terror groups, including the Islamic Jihad, issued several threats to Israel, and have held military parades in the refugee camp since the escape, warning against raids in Jenin. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi had approved operation plans for a possible large-scale operation in the city, Channel 12 reported on Sunday.
The two fugitives did not resist arrest, giving themselves up, after Israeli troops encircled the building where they were hiding. And no gunmen were to be seen in the eastern part of the city.
In drone footage released by the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday evening, the two escapees can be seen on the roof of the building, prior to their capture.
But the intel of Nafiyat’s whereabouts came just 10 minutes before the operation began, Channel 12 said. The Israel Police Yamam counterterrorism unit almost went in expecting to only arrest one of the two fugitives, the network said.
In an apparent effort to avoid a major, direct confrontation with Palestinian terrorists in the city, Israeli forces initially drew attention away from the home where Kamamji and Nafiyat were hiding by dispatching large numbers of troops to a different part of the city as a distraction, and only then sending a smaller team to the actual location.
Two alleged accomplices, reportedly Jenin residents, were also arrested in the raid. The Shin Bet security service said it was questioning both the fugitives and the accomplices.
The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Sunday evening ordered an extension of the remand of Kamamji and Nafiyat for 10 days, following their arrest overnight.
Originally from Kafr Dan, near Jenin, Kamamji was arrested in 2006 and jailed for life for the kidnap and murder of a young Israeli, Eliahu Asheri. He expressed pride in the murder at his trial, saying 18-year-old Asheri was “no child,” as he had studied at a military academy.
Nafiyat was suspected by Israeli authorities to have illegally sold weapons; he has been held for nearly two years. Security officials had feared the two fugitives could attempt to carry out a terror attack while on the run.
Nafiyat, who was previously released in a prisoner exchange, was in advanced talks for a plea deal over his weapons crimes, the Kan public broadcaster reported on Sunday. If the plea deal had gone through, Nafiyat would have been released within a number of months, the report said.
In a 2011 deal with Hamas, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian terror convicts in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been kidnapped in 2006. Several of the convicts, including Nafiyat, were later rearrested.
The lawyer for Kamamji and Nafiyat claimed Sunday that the two were “viciously beaten” after they were apprehended.
Attorney Mundhir Abu Ahmad told Palestinian media that the two Palestinian fugitives were also fired upon twice by Israeli soldiers during the chase — once near the Israeli city of Afula and again near the West Bank through a gap in the fence.
Kamamji allegedly also told his lawyer that he was nearly caught in the process of crossing the West Bank border fence, soon after the escape.
This was also when he and Nafiyat split up, with the latter spending some 48 hours in Israeli territory, before also heading toward Jenin.
תיעוד בלעדי: כך חצו המחבלים הנמלטים את קו התפר
— חדשות 13 (@newsisrael13) September 19, 2021
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.
Four of the six escapees, including notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi, were caught by security forces last weekend.
The escape is considered one of the worst jailbreaks in Israel’s history and 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.
Times of Israel staff and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.