Criticism mounts, search for 6 Palestinians who escaped prison enters 2nd day

By Sara Gómez Armas

Jerusalem, Sep 7 (EFE).- Israel on Tuesday embarked on the second day of a manhunt for six convicted Palestinian militants who managed to escape from the high-security Gilboa prison complex through a tunnel.

News of the escape plot was met with public celebrations in parts of the West Bank but in Israel public pressure and criticism of the security services has mounted amid fears of an escalation of violence or an attack.

Officials are mulling two likely scenarios. The first is that the six prisoners, all serving life sentences for terror offenses and considered a high threat to the public, are hiding in the occupied West Bank, potentially in Jenin, where they are originally from.

The second, a security source told Efe, was that they had crossed the relatively porous border into neighboring Jordan.

A judge late Monday issued a 30-day gag order to limit details about the case, police said.

The six fugitives escaped from the prison complex, located in Israel’s northeast, through a tunnel opened under the sink in the cell they shared.

The tunnel entrance led to the prison’s underground plumbing system and the exit shaft opened beneath a watchtower outside the complex.

Police reports leaked to Israeli media suggest that tower guards had fallen asleep at the time of the escape, around 1 am local time. Prison authorities did not discover the empty cell until three hours later.

Security cameras captured the escape in real time but none of the prison guards was monitoring the live footage, Israel’s public radio station Kan reported.

The Hollywood-style prison break is the largest ever from an Israeli prison and revealed security and intelligence shortcomings that have prompted an uproar in local media.

The fugitives disappeared without a trace.

In Jenin, the news was met with celebratory gunfire.

Israeli authorities ramped up road checks and deployed sniffer dogs and drones in the huge manhunt.

Security officials told Efe on the condition of anonymity that the prison escape heightened the possibility of an attack, either by the fugitives or by militants looking to hinder the manhunt, or an escalation of violence.

The apparent leader of the fugitives is well-known prisoner Zakaria Zubeidi, formerly the Jenin chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist organization in the eyes of Israel and much of the West.

It played an active role during the Second Intifada and, in 2002, was behind the attack on Israel’s Likud Party headquarters that killed six people.

The other five are members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is also regarded as a terror group by Israel and the West but enjoys ample support in the West Bank. EFE


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