Inmates riot across prisons in Israel as manhunt for escaped prisoners continues
Security prisoners rioted in jails across Israel as tensions escalate following the escape of six prisoners from Gilboa Prison using a tunnel they dug in their cell.
The rioting prisoners, mainly belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, set fire to cells in Ketziot, Ramon and Ofer prisons on Wednesday after Israel Prison Service (IPS) Commissioner Katy Perry placed new restrictions on inmates and moved hundreds of prisoners in order to ensure that only one PIJ prisoner would be in a cell at a time.
On Thursday prisoners set fire to their cells at Ramon prison in southern Israel.
Israel Prison Services (IPS) said following the escape that it would be sending the other security prisoners at Gilboa Prison to other facilities across the country as a precautionary measure in case there are other tunnels.
The IPS also temporarily suspensed visiting rights.
While the Red Cross was quoted in Palestinian media as saying that the suspension will last until the end of September, it clarified on Thursday afternoon that it had been notified only about a suspension between September 12-14.
Inmates from Gilboa and Megiddo Prison in the North were moved to other jails in the South, but on Wednesday, the IPS backtracked on moving some 150 PIJ inmates from Ofer Prison in the West Bank after prisoners threatened to riot, commit arson and harm guards if they would be transferred.
Five of the six prisoners who escaped belong to PIJ.
Although the riots and fires were brought under control, authorities are preparing for additional violence.
Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bankheld solidarity marches in cities like Hebron and Jenin toward Israeli checkpoints like Kalkilya and the perimeter fence in support of the prisoners.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Perry, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Nadav Argaman, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and others.
Bennett “emphasized that the events have the potential to impact a number of sectors so it is a joint effort by all security forces,” his office said, adding that “Israel is prepared for any scenario.”
THE MASSIVE manhunt for the six Palestinian escapees continued throughout the holiday with no progress despite expansive search efforts by Israeli security forces.
Police, the Shin Bet, Border Police and IDF troops from seven companies, two brigades, three battalions and two search teams as well as Special Forces are taking part in the manhunt, and have placed dozens of roadblocks throughout the country to catch the escapees.
The IDF announced Wednesday night that the general closure on the West Bank would be extended until September 11th at midnight.
Police spokesman Eli Levy said following the escape that “our goal is to catch and arrest them – as long as there is a possibility that they are in Israel.”
Police are investigating the possibility that while the escapees may still be in Israel, they could have managed to escape to Jenin or to Jordan.
The six prisoners shared a cell and after discovering a structural flaw in the construction of the prison, dug the tunnel for over a year.
According to Walla News, a preliminary investigation of the incident found that the warden who was in the guard tower above the escape tunnel shaft had fallen asleep.
They coordinated the escape with people outside the prison using a smuggled cell phone. After they escaped, it is believed that they got away in a car that was waiting for them nearby after they changed clothes and were given arms.
OVERNIGHT TUESDAY, the Israeli military arrested five of the escapees’ relatives in Arabba near Jenin, according to the Wafa News Agency. Israeli forces also conducted a house-to-house search in Arraba, Arabbuna, Anin, Faqqu‘a and Bir al-Basha.
Police on Tuesday searched the Arab towns of Na’ura and Tamra, entering mosques and setting up checkpoints. Three people in Na’ura were arrested in connection to the escape. Police also searched the Palestinian town of Jalama near the city of Jenin.
Bennett spoke with Bar-Lev following the escape on Monday and said this was a “serious incident that will require the efforts of all security services.”
Gantz held a situational assessment with Argaman, IDF Operations Division head Maj.-Gen. Oded Basiuk and Central Command head Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs following the escape.
Gantz was updated on both the intelligence and operational efforts to find the prisoners and ordered that troops at border crossings and crossings in the Seam Zone be reinforced, a statement from his office said.
The police are preparing for the possibility that the terrorists might attempt to carry out an attack, including the possibility of kidnapping Israelis in order to release other prisoners.
Officials held several situational assessments over the holiday.
A senior police official said this was one of the worst incidents of its kind to have ever happened in the country. According to public broadcaster KAN, police are investigating whether or not guards were involved in the escape.
THE SIX escapees were high-security prisoners who were all in jail with life sentences for deadly terror attacks against Israelis. According to Hebrew media reports, three of them had previously attempted to escape.
The escape, which began at around 3:30 a.m., was reportedly discovered when a farmer saw the six prisoners running in his field, after which he notified the police.
The IPS released the names and affiliations of the escaped prisoners.
One of the escapees is Zakaria Zubeidi, a Fatah commander who was responsible for multiple terror attacks and for killing many Israelis.
Zubeidi was arrested by the Shin Bet in 2019 following intelligence that he was planning a serious attack in the West Bank and for two shooting attacks against Israeli buses in the West Bank near Beit El and Psagot.
He was once considered a “symbol of the Intifada,” but renounced militancy over a decade ago and was awarded clemency by Israel after he agreed to give up arms.
The other five escapees were identified as Munadil Nafayat, Iham Kahamji, Yaquob Qadiri and brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed al-Arida. They are all members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and from towns near Jenin.
In a statement, PIJ called the escape “heroic” and said it was “an utter failure for the occupation army.”
PIJ leader Khaled al-Batash was quoted by Shehab News Agency as saying that if there is “any attempt to assassinate the heroes of the operation, we warn the occupation that they will pay a heavy price for it.”
They also quoted Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum as saying the escape is a “great victory proving that the will and determination of the resistance fighters and Mujahedin cannot be defeated regardless of the challenges” and that the “Zionist enemy has never and will never win, no matter how much power it possesses. The struggle for freedom from the occupier continues.”
Police placed a gag order on the investigation into the escape.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.