Israeli police arrest four of six Palestinians who escaped from prison

Israeli police said on Saturday they arrested four of the six Palestinians who escaped from a maximum security prison this week, including a famous militant leader whose exploits over the years have made him a well-known figure in Israel.

The arrests brought Israel closer to closing an embarrassing episode that exposed deep flaws in its prison system and turned runaway prisoners into Palestinian heroes. Late on Friday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel in an apparent sign of solidarity, sparking retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

The four wanted men were caught in a pair of arrests in northern Israel.

Early Saturday, police said they had captured two men, including Zakaria Zubeidi, in the Arab city of Umm al-Ghanam. Zubeidi was a militant leader during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.

While he has been linked to attacks on Israelis, he was also known for giving frequent media interviews and for a friendship he once had with an Israeli woman. Over the years, Zubeidi had received amnesty and had taken university courses and was active in a theatrical movement in the West Bank before being arrested again in 2019 on suspicions of involvement in attacks.

Photos released by the police showed Zubeidi, handcuffed and with a white blindfold, being carried away by two policemen.

In a statement, the police said that Israeli security forces, including the army, have been working “around the clock” to catch the fugitives.

“All the forces deployed in full force, searched in open areas, collected every piece of information until they managed to solve the puzzle to locate these two fugitives,” including Zubeidi, police said. The search for the last two prisoners continued.

Previously, two other prisoners were arrested in Nazareth, an Arab city in northern Israel, west of Umm al-Ghanam.

A video circulating on social media showed Israeli police chaining one of the prisoners, Yakub Kadari, in the back seat of a police vehicle and asking him his name. The man, dressed in jeans and a green T-shirt, calmly identifies himself as Kadari and answers “yes” when asked if he is one of the fugitives. Kadari was serving two life sentences for attempted murder and bombing.

According to Israeli media reports, local residents of both cities had turned over the prisoners.

Raging manhunt

The six Palestinians exited a tunnel from Gilboa prison on Monday, triggering a furious persecution across Israel and the West Bank.

For the Palestinians, the fugitives earned praise for breaking free from multiple life sentences. Fighting Israel and participating in attacks against the Israeli army or even civilians is a source of pride for many, and Palestinians regard the prisoners held by Israel as heroes of their national cause.

>> ‘We are proud of him’, says the brother of Israel, fugitive from prison to FRANCE 24

In both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinians had organized sit-ins and joyful gatherings to celebrate the prison break.

While Zubeidi was a member of the secular group Fatah, the others belonged to the militant Islamic Jihad group, including four serving life sentences. All the prisoners are from the nearby Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

As soon as news of the capture of the two fugitives was confirmed on Friday, a series of bitter posts expressing disappointment and shock filled Palestinian social media.

Israel said Saturday night that Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel that was intercepted by Israeli air defenses. The Israeli army said it responded with airstrikes against a series of Hamas targets in Gaza. Israel says it blames Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, for all rocket fire emanating from the territory.

There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinian Authority, but Abdeltaif al-Qanou, a spokesman for the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, said that despite the new arrest, the prisoners “won a victory and damaged the prestige of the Israeli security system. ”

The escape has exposed major flaws in Israel’s prison service and sparked days of angry criticism and accusations. The men escaped through a hole in the floor of their shared cell, tunneling through a hole outside the prison and, according to media reports, passed a sleeping prison guard.

Tension between Israel and the Palestinians has also increased.

Earlier on Friday, Hamas had called for “a day of rage” to protest the Israeli crackdown on jailed Palestinians, but the day passed without major clashes. In Jerusalem, a suspected Palestinian attacker died shortly after being shot by Israeli police in the volatile Old City, where he had reportedly attempted to stab officers. Police said one officer was slightly injured in the leg.

(AP)

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