Israeli forces have been searching for six Palestinian militants that broke out of a maximum security Israeli prison through a hole in the floor of a cell early on Monday.
Israeli security forces mounted a search in northern Israel after farmers tipped off police about suspicious figures seen in their fields in the early morning hours. Police then alerted officials at Gilboa prison, who discovered that the men had gone.
“Overnight, we received a number of reports about suspicious figures in agricultural fields and from the prison service, which discovered very quickly that prisoners were missing from their cells and that six escaped,” police spokesman Eli Levy said.
The army said its forces were “prepared and deployed” in the occupied West Bank as part of the operation.
Five of the fugitives belong to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement serving life sentences for involvement in attacks on Israelis during the Palestinian Intifada – or uprising – in the early 2000s, and one is a former commander of an armed group affiliated with the mainstream Fatah party, the Prisons Service said.
The sixth fugitive Zakariye Zubeidi, 46 was a former Fatah party leader in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. He was awaiting a verdict in his trial.
As a precaution, prison officials transferred some other inmates to other jails; hours after the escape, fearing similar tunnels had been dug.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club who spent 18 years in prison, described the brazen escape as a victory against the Israeli security system.
“We are happy with this escape. We have called a lot for the necessity of liberating all Palestinian prisoners. If the prisoners can free themselves, this is a great thing,” Fares, said.