JERUSALEM: Six Palestinians broke out of a high-security Israeli prison on Monday through a tunnel dug beneath a sink, in what Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called a grave incident.
Israeli police and the military had started a search after the escape from Gilboa prison in northern Israel. The Israel Prison Service (IPS) said an alert was sounded at roughly 3am by locals who spotted “suspicious figures” outside the Gilboa prison.
According to the Prisons Service, five of the fugitives belonged to the Islamic Jihad movement. The group also includes Zakaria Zubeidi — a prominent former leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which was a part of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah political movement, the IPS confirmed in a statement.
Israeli media reports said it was possible the escapees had already returned to the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967. The army said its forces were “prepared and deployed” in the West Bank as part of the operation.
The Prison Service released a video that showed agents inspecting a narrow tunnel dug beneath a sink, burrowing deep into the ground. The jailbreak occurred hours before Israel begins its High Holiday season, starting with Jewish New Year which begins at sundown.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement called the escape “a serious incident” and said he was receiving regular updates about the search.
Four of the men were serving life sentences, a Palestinian prisoners organisation said. “This great victory proves again that the will and determination of our brave soldiers inside the prisons of the enemy cannot be defeated,” said Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas.