Security prisoners riot in jails as terror groups protest new curbs on inmates

Prisoners at Ketziot set fire to cells after attempts to move PIJ members between facilities; unrest reported at other facilities; new restrictions come after Monday’s jailbreak

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A burnt prison cell is seen at Ketziot Prison following rioting by Palestinian security prisoners there, on September 8, 2021. (Courtesy)
A burnt prison cell is seen at Ketziot Prison following rioting by Palestinian security prisoners there, on September 8, 2021. (Courtesy)

Palestinian security prisoners set fire to a number of cells in the Ketziot and Ramon prisons in southern Israel on Wednesday, amid escalating unrest over new restrictions on inmates following the escape of six security prisoners from a high-level prison earlier this week.

Violence was reported in several other facilities and the Prisons Service said it was on high alert, bracing for further clashes.

The fires in seven cells in Ketziot were started by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) members who refused to be moved between sections, Hebrew-language media reports said, after the Israel Prisons Service began to move PIJ inmates between facilities following Monday’s jailbreak. Five of the escapees were members of PIJ.

The Metzada Unit, an elite force within the prisons service that deals with disturbances, was headed to the prison located in Israel’s Negev desert to assist with the ongoing unrest.

Reports indicated that the fires were brought under control after a short while. There were no reports of injuries in the blazes.

Shortly afterward, two cells were set on fire in different wings of Ramon prison, also in the Negev, the Prisons Service said. Both blazes were brought under control after a short while, it added.

Cells are seen at Ketziot Prison following rioting there, September 8, 2021 (Courtesy)

Clashes were also reported in Ofer Prison near Jerusalem. And early Wednesday morning, a security prisoner attempted to throw hot water at a prison guard at Gilboa Prison. The Prisons Service said the guard was unharmed and the inmate was sent to solitary confinement.

The Palestinian Authority’s Prisoner’s Authority announced on Wednesday that prisoner leaders had agreed that incarcerated Palestinians would continue to oppose new restrictions imposed on inmates following Monday’s jailbreak.

The PIJ’s prisoner council announced its members imprisoned in Israeli jails would begin an open-ended hunger strike after the Prisons Service imposed “punitive measures against the prisoners and their movement.

“We are preparing to engage in an open-ended hunger strike during the next week, unless the fierce attack against us stops,” the body added.

The Hamas terror group on Wednesday also warned of a response if Israel continues its “retaliatory measures” against Palestinian prisoners, especially its members.

“We warn the Zionist occupation against the continuation of these repressive and retaliatory measures against the prisoners, and hold it fully responsible for all the results and consequences of these dangerous policies,” Hamas said in a statement.

The military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also warned against any “harm” to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. “Our fighters are on standby, are ready, and all options are available to respond and defend our brave prisoners,” the terror group said.

In a similar statement, the military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another Gaza-based terror faction, warned Israel “not to test our patience,” adding that it would “not stand by idly, and all options are open.”

Israel Prison Service officer Arik Yaakov, center, looks at an evidence outside the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel after six Palestinian inmates escaped from the facility on September 6, 2021. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

A Prisons Service official vowed to restore order in the jails.

“The security prisoners do not run the prisons around the country, we run them,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Israel has launched a massive manhunt to capture the six prisoners, who are considered highly dangerous, after they broke out of the high-security Gilboa Prison early Monday in what is considered to be one of the most serious jailbreaks in the country’s history.

The military on Wednesday said it was boosting its aid to the search efforts, with two battalions, six companies, two recon teams, a number of special forces squads and aerial surveillance teams assisting.

Israeli Border Police in the village of Nau’ra search for six Palestinian fugitives who escaped from a high security prison in northern Israel, on September 7, 2021. (Flash90)

The escape has sparked tumult in Israel’s prison system. Senior officials from the prison were summoned for questioning on Tuesday evening, Kan news reported. Earlier in the day, at least 14 Prisons Service staff were questioned by police amid suspicions that the escapees may have had assistance.

Prison officials and police are being widely castigated for lapses that facilitated the escape, with a litany of blunders allowing the breakout to occur in the first place, and a failure to grasp the severity of the situation for several hours after it occurred.

Authorities said that they had not achieved any breakthroughs in the search for the terrorists as of Tuesday evening, but Hebrew and Palestinian reports said that three suspects had been arrested on suspicion of helping the fugitives.

The six escaped via a tunnel in their cell’s drainage system, though officials said that a security flaw meant that they did not need to excavate to create a passage out.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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