Palestinians held demonstrations on Friday night across the West Bank, some of them violent, after the Israel Police captured two of the six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from jail earlier this week.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly convened a number of police and military officials for an assessment of the situation in the early hours of Saturday morning, an unusual step for the religiously observant premier to take on the Jewish Sabbath. There was no official announcement or confirmation on the matter.
Hebrew media reports said up to 1,000 demonstrators and rioters took part in protests at 11 locations across the West Bank.
Palestinians opened fire toward Israeli troops at the Jalamah checkpoint near the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, for the second night in a row, according to the Israeli military.
The Israeli army said up to 600 protesters gathered at the checkpoint to clash with soldiers. In addition to the gunfire, rioters set fire to tires and threw Molotov cocktails toward soldiers stationed there. The military said that it acted to disperse the demonstrators; there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The cinematic Gilboa Prison jailbreak of the six Palestinians on Monday morning has raised tensions across the West Bank. Israeli forces have conducted wide-ranging search operations, while Palestinian armed groups have vowed revenge should the fugitives come to harm.
Police identified the two captured fugitives as Yaquob Qadiri and Mahmoud al-Arida, both of Islamic Jihad. Al-Arida was reported to be the mastermind of the escape. His younger brother Mohammed was still on the run.
Al-Arida, considered a senior Islamic Jihad member, was jailed for life for terrorist activity, including attacks in which soldiers were killed. Qadiri, also an Islamic Jihad member, was also serving life terms for acts of terrorism including the murder of an Israeli in 2004. Both men were reportedly involved in a 2014 attempt to break out of Gilboa.
Videos circulating on social media showed small crowds gathering in downtown Ramallah and Hebron’s al-Fawar refugee camp on Saturday night in solidarity with the two recaptured fugitives. Other footage purportedly showed violent disturbances at the Qalandiya checkpoint in the West Bank north of Jerusalem.
In another nighttime disturbance in the West Bank, Israeli soldiers fired at three Palestinians at a pillbox near Hebron, wounding one. An Israeli military spokesperson said the three had thrown Molotov cocktails at troops. The soldiers responded with Ruger bullets, a smaller but still deadly form of live fire, according to the army. The three suspects fled, with Israeli search efforts ongoing.
Palestinian media also reported clashes in Hebron’s al-Aroub refugee camp. The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Additionally, gunmen attacked the home of senior Arab Israeli police officer Jamal Hakroush in the northern Israeli city of Kafr Kanna on Friday evening. There were no injuries in the incident, although the shooting damaged the building, according to Israel Police.
It was unclear if the attack was linked to the capture of the prisoners, a police spokesperson added. Hakroush directs a unit whose directive is to fight rising crime in Arab cities and towns.
The disturbances came in the hours immediately following the capture of two of the escaped prisoners in the northern Israeli town of Nazareth.
Shortly after the arrests, terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a single rocket toward Israel that was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The Magen David Adom emergency service said one woman was lightly injured while running for shelter when the siren sounded.
For many Palestinians, the fugitives have been regarded as “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. In the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank, some Palestinians have organized sit-ins and joyful gatherings to celebrate the prison break.
Despite the capture of the two, Islamic Jihad celebrated the escapees and warned Israel against any harm coming to them while in detention, as well as saying this week’s jail bust would not be the last.
“We hold the enemy totally responsible for the lives of the two prisoners arrested in Nazareth. Putting their lives in danger would be a declaration of war against the Palestinian people,” the terror group said in a statement.
Israel “is trying to use the picture of the two fighters’ arrests to try and show that this is a victory, to revitalize the image of its army which has become the target of mockery,” Islamic Jihad spokesperson Daoud Shehab told the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen network.
“This operation absolutely will not be the last,” Shehab warned, referring to the prisoner escape, later adding: “We are perfectly aware that we are engaged in a long struggle.”
The Hamas terror group also hailed the two prisoners’ escape attempt, saying that arresting them would not “break their will.”
“They achieved honor by their successful escape operation, humiliating the occupying power and shattering its prestige. Arresting them will not wash away the shame of occupation, nor will it break [the two prisoners’] will. They will one day be free outside the jailer’s bars,” said Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou.
Scattered rallies also took place in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The terror group described the protests as “spontaneous.”
“Acts of resistance unite our people wherever they are. This is what is happening now in the spontaneous marches in solidarity with the prisoners, and what happened previously in the battle of the Sword of Jerusalem” said Hamas spokesperson Hazim Qasim, referring to the May battle between Israel and the terror group by its Arabic-language name.
Following the arrests, Qadiri and al-Arida were transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning and officials were hopeful they could provide leads to recapturing the other four fugitives.
The six escaped from the high-security Gilboa Prison in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison.
Israeli forces have scrambled to find the inmates, all of them highly dangerous. In recent days, Israeli troops have arrested many of the fugitives’ family members, including five who were arrested in villages near the northern West Bank city of Jenin in the predawn hours of Friday morning, according to Palestinian media.
It was believed that some of the escapees had managed to enter Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank.
Four of the six fugitives were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis; a fifth — the notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, Zakaria Zubeidi — was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.
The escape exposed a series of failures at the prison; Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Thursday that he had decided to form a government commission to probe the incident.
Agencies contributed to this report.