Israel arrests family members of Palestinian jihadists who made prison break

A police officer keeps watch from an observation tower at the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel on September 6, 2021. © Jalaa Marey, AFP

Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank have arrested at least five family members of the Palestinians who escaped from a high-security prison this week, a Palestinian prisoners' group said Wednesday.

The six Palestinians fled Monday through a hole dug under a sink at the Gilboa prison in northern Israel.

Israel has deployed drones, road checkpoints and an army mission to Jenin, the West Bank hometown of many of the men locked up for their roles in attacks on the Jewish state.

The Palestinian Prisoners' Club said two brothers of Mahmud Ardah, described in local media as the mastermind of the escape, have been arrested.

The army has also taken into custody three other people – fellow family member Dr Nidal Ardah, along with the brother of a second fugitive and the father of Munadel Infeiat, another escapee.

Amani Sarahneh, a spokeswoman for the prisoners' group, told AFP that others could also have been arrested, while some had been only briefly detained.

Asked by AFP, the Israeli army – which has occupied the West Bank since 1967 – said "several arrests were made overnight", without elaborating.

An Israeli injunction is in effect against publishing details of the investigation, even as local media report on the scramble to recover from the embarrassing lapse and prevent any possible attack by the fugitives.

There are many possible destinations for the band, a police spokesman said, from their nearby West Bank home to the shelter of the Gaza Strip, ruled by Islamist group Hamas and a refuge for the Islamic Jihad group, to which five of the six belong, according to the Prisons Service.

'News quite a shock'

They could even have tried to cross the border to another country altogether.

It was "very probable" that the men crossed into Jordan, whose frontier lies only around 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the prison, a police source told Israeli daily Haaretz Tuesday.

The paper also reported that a car may have picked up some or all of the escapees three kilometres from the prison on Monday.

Abo Al-Athir Kamamji, father of escapee Ayham Kamamji, told AFP that an Israeli security official summoned him on Monday.

"I was asked what my son and I said to each other on my last visit" to prison, he said, adding that he only learned of his son's escape from television reports and social media.

"The first news was quite a shock. I hope God will protect him, and that he stays alive for a long time," he said.

Another fugitive is Zakaria Zubeidi, the former head of the Jenin branch of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and a well-known figure among both Palestinians and Israelis.

His father Kamal told AFP the family was "very happy" at his escape.

"But at the same time we fear for the life of Zakaria and the young men with him," he said. "So far the news is good and I hope they all stay safe and sound."

One branch of Israel's probe into the escape is how it succeeded without the prison guards noticing a thing.

Public broadcaster Kan reported that the men were visible on surveillance cameras as they wriggled out of the tunnel exit – but no-one was monitoring the screens at the time.

A guard in charge of that sector of the prison may even have been asleep on duty, Kan added.

Meanwhile, a journalist for the Maariv newspaper said that constructing the tunnel could have taken the inmates as long as five months, according to elements from the investigation.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)


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