Public Security Minister Omer Barlev intentionally misled the Israeli public on Saturday night about the ongoing manhunt to find two Palestinian fugitives who were arrested hours later, saying in a television interview that one of them was likely located inside Israel when he knew that the suspect was in fact hiding in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Barlev’s spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that the minister had deliberately lied in his Channel 12 interview.
“Yes, it was a deception,” the spokesman said.
In the interview, Barlev was asked to give an update on the then-ongoing manhunt to find the remaining two Palestinian security prisoners out of a group of six who broke out of Gilboa Prison earlier this month. The other four were found and arrested last weekend.
“We know that one of them is in Judea and Samaria,” he said, using the biblical term for the West Bank. “The other is apparently inside Israel.”
Barlev was not asked specifically about the location of the suspects and instead volunteered what he knew to be false information, apparently in order to lull the fugitives into a false sense of security.
By the time of Barlev’s interview on Saturday evening, Israeli security forces had determined that both suspects were in fact located within the Jenin area, apparently moving between different safe houses in the West Bank city.
“As time passed, we knew they were in Jenin,” Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said early Sunday. “We prepared for several days for a complex mission. And tonight, after receiving the information we had been waiting for, the signal was given to start the operation, with Yamam forces at the forefront.”
The two men — Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terror group — were arrested in the predawn hours of Sunday morning in a joint operation by the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security services and Israel Police, following a 13-day manhunt.
The fugitives were captured alive and without resistance.
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.
Nafayat had been charged with illegally sold weapons two years ago and has been in prison since during his trial.
The six Palestinian prisoners escaped from Gilboa Prison in the predawn hours of September 6, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison. They had reportedly begun digging in November, using plates and pan handles, building debris and part of a metal hanger, according to various reports.
The escape exposed a series of failures at the prison. Among the apparent lapses were failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.
Among Palestinians, the fugitives have been widely regarded as “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. The jailbreak was followed by heightened tensions in the West Bank, a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, several other attack attempts, and sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel.