Six Palestinian militants have broken out of one of Israel’s highest security prisons after apparently accessing tunnels from a toilet.
The fugitives managed to escape the Gilboa prison, which is close to the boundary with the West Bank and holds Palestinians convicted or suspected of anti-Israeli activities, including deadly attacks.
Arik Yaacov, the prison service’s northern commander, said the group appeared to have opened a hole from their cell toilet floor to give them access to passages formed during the jail’s construction.
Suspected eence connected to the escape is examined outside the Gilboa prison. Pic: AP
Israeli security personnel inspect the prison cell from where the bid to escape was apparently launched
Pictures showed a small opening into a tunnel which is said to have allowed the inmates to begin their attempt to break out of the jail.
Police and the military were using helicopters and drones as part of their searches in northern Israel.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the escape “a grave incident” while several Palestinian factions hailed the jailbreak.
This picture by Israel’s Prisons Service shows the hole in the floor through which the inmates are believed to have escaped
“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 the Islamist militant group Hamas.
A police spokesman said security forces believed the fugitives might try to reach the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, or the Jordanian border around nine miles (14km) to the east.
Five of the fugitives belong to the Islamic Jihad movement, the Prisons Service said.
Israel’s security forces have launched a massive search for the fugitives after the jailbreak at Gilboa prison
Israeli soldiers at a security fence in the West Bank town of Jenin as part of the search for the fugitives. Pic: AP
Israeli soldiers stand guard near a security fence in Jenin. Pic: AP
The sixth escapee, Zakaria Zubeidi, is a former commander of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank city of Jenin.
The brigades carried out deadly attacks against Israelis during a 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising.
Four of the men were serving life sentences, a Palestinian prisoners organisation said.