Concerns as hunger-striking Hamas inmate said to deteriorate

Security minister seeks to form government commission to probe prison break

Barlev says AG approved move, which still needs cabinet okay, will leave ‘no stone unturned’; police raise alert level amid manhunt, said readying to help secure jails

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 said Thursday that he had decided to form a government commission to probe the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from Gilboa Prison earlier this week, as security forces prepare for possible further unrest in response to the incident.

A statement from Barlev’s office said that the move had been coordinated with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Barlev also said that he has received the approval of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for establishing the commission of inquiry, and that he would soon ask the government to approve it.

“We will leave no stone unturned,” Barlev said. “I trust the government of Israel to approve my recommendation so that we can get to the bottom of the events that led to the grave outcome.”

Earlier on Thursday, Barlev toured the Gilboa Prison and bemoaned the jailbreak as a “failure,” vowing to track down the causes of the incident.

“We will get our hands on the fleeing terrorists, we will correct the failures that led to the escapes — and if we find professional negligence, we will take care of that as well,” he said in a statement.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape outside the Gilboa prison in Northern Israel, on Monday, September 6, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

On Thursday evening, the Israel Police raised the alert level throughout Israel to 3, one below the highest level, as it ramped up the search for the prisoners who escaped.

Police said that they will reinforce their presence at public gatherings and shopping centers, and that they are preparing for the possibility of an emergency situation, amid fears that the current tensions will escalate into a round of armed conflict with terror groups.

According to reports, police are also preparing to enter prisons to aid with security if the situation continues to deteriorate.

The jailbreak has sparked riots in prisons around the country, as well as in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

A cell in the Rimon Prison in southern Israel was set ablaze on Thursday, as Palestinian terror convicts in Israeli jails continue to protest changes imposed after the escape.

The Israel Prisons Service said that prisoners started the fire in their cell in Wing 7, and that officials have gained control of the blaze.

Cells are seen at Ketziot Prison following rioting by Palestinian security prisoners there, on September 8, 2021. (Courtesy)

The inmates that set the cell on fire are reportedly affiliated with Fatah, not the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group that has been leading the prison unrest in recent days.

Wednesday also saw major unrest at Ketziot Prison, where inmates burned several cells, as well as at several other facilities.

According to a Channel 12 news report Thursday night, an unnamed Hamas prisoner who is on a hunger strike was taken to hospital earlier in the day as his condition deteriorated. Security officials were said to be worried that if he died in an Israeli hospital, there could be further violence, the report said.

Additionally, the Gaza-based Hamas terror group has declared Friday as a “day of rage,” with Israeli security services preparing for potential violence after prayers.

The six escapees in the break discovered on Monday morning include Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, who was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.

The six Palestinian security prisoners who 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)

Four escapees were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis and affiliation with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. The remaining prisoner was being held in administrative detention and had not been charged with a crime other than belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

With a number of failures said to have aided the escape, senior officials from the prison service were summoned for questioning earlier in the week amid suspicions that the escapees may have had assistance.

On Wednesday, Israel Prisons Service (IPS) Commissioner Katy Perry pushed back against demands that she resign following the escape, one of the most serious prison breaks in the country’s history.

In a letter to IPS guards and staff, which was made public on Thursday, Perry acknowledged that the incident had shaken the organization. She said that it was necessary to “investigate in depth” whatever negligence had led to the prison break and implement the takeaways from the findings.

Perry, who entered the job in January, offered her staff praise for their work, along with caution against reacting to outside criticism. She vowed to remain at the helm of the organization.

Israel Prisons Service Commissioner Katy Perry. (Screenshot/YouTube)

According to a number of Thursday reports, a guard tower overlooking the entrance to the tunnel used in the escape was unmanned at the time of the prison break.

With the tunnel’s exit just a few meters away from the guard tower, earlier reports had said a guard had fallen asleep on the job while the group escaped.

But citing guards from the prison facility, the Ynet news site said that there was in fact nobody at the guard post at all. The report said that the reason for the post being unmanned was unclear, and that a camera was pointed at the tunnel’s opening, but nobody was watching the video feed.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that the tower had been vacant for over a month at the orders of the prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit due to a manpower shortage.

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