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Palestinian prisoners handed 5 more years behind bars for notorious prison escape

Convicted Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi and 5 Islamic Jihad members also hit with fines for fleeing Gilboa Prison last year, setting off massive manhunt

Zakaria Zubeidi (C) who escaped out of Israel's high security Gilboa prison and others, surrounded by prison guards as he arrives for a court hearing in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, May 22, 2022 (Oren Ziv/POOL)
Zakaria Zubeidi (C) who escaped out of Israel's high security Gilboa prison and others, surrounded by prison guards as he arrives for a court hearing in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, May 22, 2022 (Oren Ziv/POOL)

A court on Sunday handed down five-year sentences to six security prisoners, including several terror convicts, who escaped from a high-security detention center in northern Israel last year.

The six broke out of Gilboa Prison in September before being captured within two weeks following a massive manhunt. Besides notorious Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi, the other five are all Palestinian Islamic Jihad members.

The sentences will be added to the time they are already serving behind bars.

Along with the prison time, the six were hit with eight-month suspended sentences and fined NIS 5,000 (around $1,500) apiece.

The court also gave four-year sentences and NIS 2,000 fines (nearly $600) to four prisoners who helped the escapees carry out their plan.

The new sentences were denounced by a spokesman for the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group as “a continuation of the aggression and violations of the occupation against our heroic prisoners.”

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape by six Palestinian prisoners, outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

The daring September 6 escape has been seen as a major failure and embarrassment to Israel’s Prisons Service. The prisoners reportedly dug the tunnel for months before the prison break, using plates, panhandles, building debris and part of a metal hanger.

The jailbreak exposed a series of lapses at the prison, including a failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, such as unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

Four of the prisoners, including Zubeidi, were captured in northern Israel within the first week, but two others made their way into the northern West Bank city of Jenin and hid out there until their arrest on September 19.

The alleged mastermind behind the jailbreak, Mahmoud al-Arida, later told investigators that Zubeidi was added to the jailbreak plan at the very end, in hopes that his connections in the Palestinian Authority would help protect them.

In his own interrogation, Zubeidi said he saw the tunnel for the first time on the day of the escape.

Clockwise from top left: Zakaria Zubeidi, Yaquob Qadiri, Iham Kamamji, Mahmoud al-Arida and Munadil Nafiyat Courtesy) and Mohammed al-Arida (Flash 90)

Zubeidi, who masterminded terror attacks during the Second Intifada as a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was granted amnesty in 2007.

In 2019 he was arrested again and charged with taking part in two shooting attacks against Israeli buses in the West Bank, with additional allegations dating back to the early 2000s added to the charge sheet.

His brother, Daoud Zubeidi, died last week of wounds he sustained during a gun battle with Israeli soldiers in and around the city of Jenin in the West Bank, during an arrest operation carried out by police special forces and the Israeli military. Israeli police commando Noam Raz, 47, was killed during the same gun battle.

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