Six convicted terrorists escaped from a high-security prison in northern Israel in the predawn hours of Monday morning, tunneling their way out through their cell’s drainage system in one of the worst prison breaks in the country’s history and prompting a massive manhunt in northern Israel and the West Bank, security services said.
Large numbers of police forces were called to the area around Gilboa Prison, located northwest of Beit She’an, near the Sea of Galilee, and were searching for the six fugitives with the help of drones and helicopters. The military and Shin Bet were also helping search for the suspects, and checkpoints were put up in the area.
Five of the six fugitives were in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis, the sixth — a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, Zakaria Zubeidi — was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder. All six were considered highly dangerous. Three of them had attempted escape in the past, according to Hebrew media reports.
The commander of the Israel Police’s Northern District said there were no security advisories in place for residents of the area following the incident, but urged them to exercise increased vigilance.
“There is no reason to change your routines, but there will be large numbers of troops within the cities of Afula and Beit She’an and in other towns. I do request additional awareness of anything suspicious,” Northern District chief Shimon Ben Shabo said in a statement.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who is responsible for both the Israel Prison Service and the Israel Police, as well as Defense Minister Benny Gantz were all informed of the escape and are in constant contact with the relevant officials, their offices said.
Gantz met with the head of the Shin Bet Nadav Argaman, the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Central Command Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs and the head of IDF Operations Maj. Gen. Oded Basyuk, his office said.
“The defense minister… ordered reinforcements to the border crossings and to the area around the frontier, while preparing to conduct whatever actions are needed to catch the terrorists, in close coordination with the Shin Bet security service and other security services,” Gantz’s office said.
The Israel Prisons Service said the escape occurred around 1:30 a.m. Monday. Police received reports about suspicious people traveling in the area of the prison a short time after that.
“Six prisoners escaped by means of an opening that was discovered in their cell,” a statement…