Four of the six prisoners were serving life sentences for attacks on Israelis. One of the fugitives, Zakaria al-Zubaidi, 46, is a former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Fatah movement.
The rest are members of the Islamic Jihad movement. There is no indication that the men pose a danger to the population, and the authorities have not ordered civilians to stay in their homes.
The police, in cooperation with the army, immediately launched a large-scale search operation in northern Israel and the West Bank. Dogs and helicopters were deployed and checkpoints were set up in the area. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described the escape as a “serious accident”. Another 400 prisoners were moved elsewhere for fear of further escapes.
The men are expected to be on their way to the West Bank city of Jenin. There, the Palestinian Authority, which officially governs the Bank of Jordan, has little say. Palestinian militias have a strong presence there, and they regularly clash with Israeli security forces.
The men’s escape was met with cheers from Palestinian activists. An Islamic Jihad spokesman described the operation as “a stunning heroic step, a shock to the Israeli security apparatus.” “This action shows that the struggle for the freedom of the oppressor continues,” a Hamas spokesman said.
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