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Police minister taps judge to head government panel probing Gilboa jailbreak

Omer Barlev also announces criminologist, ex-Shin Bet official will be part of commission investigating how six Palestinian security prisoners escaped the high-security facility

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev visits Ketziot prison in southern Israel, on September 9, 2021. (Israel Prisons Service)
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev visits Ketziot prison in southern Israel, on September 9, 2021. (Israel Prisons Service)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev on Friday announced the makeup of a government commission to investigate the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from a high-security facility in northern Israel earlier this month.

All six Palestinians who escaped have been recaptured since the jailbreak, considered one of the worst prison escapes in Israel’s history.

A statement from Barlev’s office says the panel will be headed by retired judge Menachem Finkelstein, who previously served as deputy head of the Central District Court and chief military prosecutor, among other posts.

The commission will also include Prof. Efrat Shoham, a criminologist at Ashkelon Academic College and Arik Barbing, a former senior official in the Shin Bet security service.

The statement didn’t specify when the panel was expected to begin its work.

Barlev announced the planned commission days after the jailbreak, vowing to leave “no stone unturned” in investigating the causes of the prison escape.

Police and journalists gather around a hole used by six Palestinians to escape from the Gilboa Prison, in northern Israel, on September 6, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The prisoners, including five Islamic Jihad members and notorious Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi, 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, panhandles, building debris and part of a metal hanger, according to various reports.

Last week Israel recaptured the final two escapees who spent nearly two weeks on the run.

Channel 12 news reported Thursday that the space underneath the prison will be filled with cement, using techniques developed by the military to prevent cross-border attack tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

The prisons service will also adopt other measures to improve security at Gilboa, including new warning and advanced detection systems that use artificial intelligence, according to the report.

The six Palestinian security prisoners escaped from Gilboa prison on Monday, September 6, 2021. Clockwise from top left: Yaqoub Qadiri, Mohammad al-Arida, Mahmoud al-Arida, Iham Kamamji, Zakaria Zubeidi, and Munadil Nafiyat (Screenshot: Palestinian Prisoners’ Media Office)

The recent 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.

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