Israel to open formal inquiry into Palestinian jailbreak

Israel to open formal inquiry into Palestinian jailbreak
3 min read
09 September, 2021
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed to form a commission of inquiry led by a retired judge into Monday's jailbreak at Gilboa prison.
The six Palestinians are still on the run [Getty]

Israel on Thursday announced a formal inquiry into lapses that enabled six Palestinians to escape a high security prison, as it pressed on with a manhunt for the fugitive militants. 

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev said in a statement that he and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had agreed to form a commission of inquiry led by a retired judge into Monday's jailbreak at Gilboa prison.

Touring another prison earlier on Thursday, Bar Lev vowed "to leave no stone unturned in order to find out what caused this failure".

The commission, which must still be approved by Bennett's cabinet, was called as Israeli forces continued to search the country and the occupied West Bank for the six escapees.

The army has sent reinforcements to the West Bank, which it placed under "general closure", with much of the focus centred on Jenin, the home of prominent escapee Zakaria Zubeidi.

Palestinians have celebrated the group, staging rallies in the West Bank and the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip as signs of support. 

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Meanwhile, Israel has put prisons holding Palestinian detainees under lockdown after the daring prison break, as authorities arrested family members of the escapees.

Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees' Affairs spokesperson Thaer Shreiteh told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister service, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that "all sections in all prisons have been closed and prisoners are forbidden to go out to [the prison yard]".

He added that authorities are "sometimes failing to give food to [jail] sections, in addition to isolating tens of [Palestinian Islamic] Jihad prisoners and transferring their leaders to Al-Jalamah Prison for investigation".

He said Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) prisoners held in the same cells were being mixed with other detainees.

It is claimed that five of the men who broke out were affiliated with the PIJ.

An Israeli injunction is in effect against publishing details of the jailbreak investigation, even as local media report on the scramble to recover from the embarrassing lapse and prevent any alleged attack by the fugitives.

Former prison service commissioner Orit Adato told reporters Thursday that the escape amounted to "a huge crisis" for the IPS, even if such incidents are extremely rare. 

"Ninety-nine percent of what they were doing was efficient until now, but one percent was not," she said.

The fugitives include five members of the Islamic Jihad and Zubeidi who is tied to Fatah, the secular movement of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

They fled Gilboa through a tunnel dug beneath a sink in a cell.

Adato said a key area of focus for the IPS should be the intelligence failure to uncover the escape plan early on.

"The intelligence (personnel) inside prison didn’t know anything, which is really a problem," she said.