Jerusalem24 – At dawn yesterday, six Palestinian prisoners managed to escape from the high-security Gilboa Prison. Considered to be the most fortified prison in Israel. The escape, which seems to be elaborate and precise, dealt a painful blow to the Israeli security institutions and the Israeli Prisons Service amid confessions of a great failure.
The six prisoners are Mahmoud Abdullah Aarda(46 years), from Araba Jenin, detained since 1996, sentenced to life imprisonment, Muhammad Qassem Aarda (39 years), from Arrabeh, detained since 2002 and sentenced to life imprisonment, and Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri (49), from Bir al-Basha has been detained since 2003 and sentenced to life imprisonment, Ayham Nayef Kammaji (35 years) from Kafr Dan has been detained since 2006 and sentenced to life imprisonment, and Zakaria al-Zubaidi (46 years) from Jenin camp has been detained since 2019 and has not been sentenced and Munadil Yaqoub Infaat (26 years old), who is from Ya’bad who has been detained since 2019 with no sentencing.
According to Israeli officials, the Israeli security forces launched a broad search for the prisoners who escaped through a tunnel dug under a sink.
The Palestinian factions unanimously praised the great escape, considering that it “broke” the Israeli security aparatus. A state of joy, satisfaction and pride prevailed among Palestinians, and sweets were distributed in the streets of Jenin and other cities to celebrate the success of the six prisoners in escaping from the fortified prison.
All six prisoners are from Jenin governorate, five of them belong to the Islamic Jihad movement, and the sixth is Zakaria al-Zubaidi, a well-known leader in the “Fatah” movement and in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
The Israeli military deployed in the vicinity of the city of Jenin, and the Jenin crossings leading to Israel were closed, and Israeli forces prevented entry or exit from it.
The Israeli Prison Service said in a statement that the operation, which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described as a “serious incident”, was exposed around 3:00 am (00.00 GMT) after residents reported “suspicious movements” near Gilboa Prison.
Officials in the Prisons Service and the Israeli Police confirmed that a large-scale combing operation involving the police, special forces and the army began immediately, and includes the use of police dogs and helicopters, in addition to setting up checkpoints in the vicinity of the area.
The Prison Service published photos and videos showing a narrow tunnel dug under a sink in the bathroom of a cell.
The escape came hours before the start of the Jewish New Year celebrations at sunset on Monday.
The Israeli Prime Minister confirmed that he is following the incident and regularly receives information about search operations, while the Israeli army said in a statement that its forces “help in pursuit of security prisoners who escaped from Gilboa Prison,” and that it allocated planes to carry out surveillance missions.
The Israeli Prison Authority did not confirm how the six escaped, but the Israeli Minister of Internal Security indicated that the floor of the prison, which was built in 2004, is based on solid pillars in the ground, including voids, which would facilitate the escape process.
Preliminary investigations indicate that the prisoners replaced their prison clothes with civilian clothes they kept in green bags and made their way as sanitation workers, according to suspicions and priority investigations.
The Prison Authority classifies the six prisoners as “high risk”, and three of them were considered possible escapees.
Israeli media said that the fear now is that the six prisoners, including people who carried out operations, will try to carry out operations and flee from Israel.
Following the Gilboa prison operation, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued instructions to reinforce the army’s forces in the West Bank and at the border checkpoints.
Gantz held consultations with the head of the Shin Bet security service, Nadav Argaman, the head of the IDF’s Operations Division, Od Psyuk, and the commander of the IDF Central District, Yehuda Vicox later today.
Following the prisoners’ escape, the June 4, 1967 border areas, specifically in the Wadi Ara and Umm al-Fahm region, witnessed a mobilization of security force patrols in search of the escapees, and Israeli security estimates indicate that the prisoners may have entered the Jenin area.
The army and the Shin Bet security service are supporting the police and the prison service in the search, several air units have been allocated for reconnaissance work, while the Israeli army has deployed in the West Bank and the Jenin area, according to a statement issued by the army.
The Israeli Prison Service announced the start of transferring 80 prisoners from Gilboa Prison to other prisons to address the security failure inside it and to search for tunnels inside the prison. In the coming days, the engineering unit of the Israeli army will conduct a full inspection of Gilboa Prison after its evacuation.
The Israeli Army Radio reported that the Prison Authority transferred about 400 prisoners from Gilboa to other prisons in the coming hours after the escape, saying that “there are fears that there are other tunnels that could be used.”
The Inspector General of Police, Yaqoub Shabtai, and the Minister of Internal Security arrived at the prison to inspect the area and the sewer line from which the prisoners had escaped. According to the Minister of Internal Security, “the planning for the prisoners’ escape from Gilboa prison was meticulous, and we suspect that they received help from abroad.”
The Israeli Prison Commissioner said, “there was no digging for a tunnel, but the prisoners lifted a cover that was placed under the toilet sink, and took advantage of the space in the cell to expand it and escape through it.”
And Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported, “There is a possibility of foreign participation, and this confirms that there is a failure not only at the prison authority, but also at the level of the security services.”
For its part, the Walla website reported that an examination is underway to see if any of the jailers helped the six prisoners escape.
Preliminary investigations show that the prisoners who escaped yesterday morning from the same wing in Gilboa prison, some of them tried to escape from it in June 2014. The Israeli Prisons Authority revealed that prisoners from the Islamic Jihad movement tried to escape from prison by digging a four-meter tunnel, in One cell bathroom.
Israeli media reported that the prisoners’ escape began at 01:30 after midnight last night, and at 03:00, citizens reported that they had seen “suspicious people” near the prison. The Prison Service said in a statement that “upon receiving the initial report, special forces were mobilized in the Prison Service from the Masada unit and police units, along with the Border Police, the Israeli army, which began search operations in cooperation with the Shin Bet.”
The statement added that “security officers in the neighboring towns were informed about the prisoners’ escape, and roadblocks were set up in the streets and special means were used.”
The Prison Authority indicated that “the event began at 01:30 when the six prisoners escaped through a hole discovered in their cell and exited from it towards the southern area of Gilboa Prison.” This hole was under the sink in the cell.
The Prison Authority issued an order to prepare for the distribution of prisoners in the section where the six prisoners were. The Prison Authority announced for the first time that the prisoners had escaped at 05:45.
Yesterday evening, the Prisoners and Former-Detainees’ Affairs Authority said in a statement that, “according to the continuous follow-up to the conditions of prisons and detention centers, after the escape of 6 prisoners from Gilboa prison and the intensification of the prison administration for its crews, and the deployment of large numbers of the occupation army in the border areas of Jenin Governorate and the city of Beisan, it was found that Gilboa prison was completely emptied of prisoners and transferred to unknown destinations.”
The statement stated that “the prisoners of Section 2 in Gilboa Prison, who are sentenced to life imprisonment, were distributed among the prisons of Ramon, Nafha and the Negev.
The commission indicated that “a large transfer of prisoners of the Islamic Jihad movement in prisons,” explaining that “a large number of them were transferred to cells, and the leadership of the movement and a number of its members were transferred to an investigation in the Jalameh Center, led by the two leaders, Zaid Bseisu and Anas Jaradat.”
The commission also stated that “the prisons and detention centers were completely locked down by the administration,” pointing out that “the Israeli prisons administration refrained from distributing meals to prisoners in many prisons and detention centers.”
The preliminary investigation showed that digging the tunnel took about a year, and its length is estimated at 25 meters, and that the excavation was carried out by a limited number of prisoners.
Preliminary investigations spoke of “the extent of the shortcomings” of the security services and the Israeli Prison Service.
According to the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation Kan 11, “the security cameras installed outside Gilboa prison and belonging to the prison, monitored the prisoners the moment they came out of the hole of the tunnel they dug outside the prison, but they were not identified in real time by the guards” who did not pay attention.
The official Israeli channel also reported that the warden who stayed in the watchtower located within the outer wall of the prison near the opening of the tunnel from which the prisoners came out, “slept during her guard period”, and failed to monitor and notice the prisoners.