Israeli authorities fell short in responses on Tuesday about how the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from a high-security prison went unnoticed and where they might have gone, with a major manhunt still ongoing.
The group’s flight early in the morning, through a hole made under a sink in a Gilboa prison cell to a small tunnel exit discovered by guards and police on Monday morning, sounds almost as a plot of the drama of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “Fauda”.
In fact, it has made fugitives “heroes” to many Palestinians, with celebrations in the Jenin area of the occupied West Bank.
But the full weight of Israel’s security arsenal has been deployed to catch them, including aerial drones, road checkpoints, and an army mission to Jenin, where many of the men locked up for their role in the attacks on the Jewish state grew up. .
The search continued as the country celebrated Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) on Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the “Great Escape” hailed by some Palestinian newspapers.
“We have not made progress at this time,” said a police spokesman in northern Israel, where the Gilboa prison has been located since its construction during the Second Intifada or uprising against Israel.
“But all branches of the security forces have mobilized to find the prisoners, be it the army, the Shin Bet (internal security service), the police, the border guards and their special units,” the spokesman added.
There is an Israeli court order against the publication of details of the investigation, even as local media report on the struggle to recover from the shameful slip and prevent any possible attack by the fugitives.
There are many possible destinations for the gang, from their nearby home in the West Bank to the refuge in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, and a haven for the Islamic Jihad group to which five of the six belong.
‘Pretty shocking news’
They might even have tried to cross the border to another country entirely.
The men were “very likely” to cross into Jordan, whose border is only about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the prison, a police source told the Israeli daily Haaretz on Tuesday.
The newspaper also reported that a car may have picked up some or all of the fugitives within two miles of the prison on Monday.
Abo Al-Athir Kamamji, father of fugitive Ayham Kamamji, told AFP that an Israeli security official summoned him on Monday.
“They asked me what my son and I said to each other on my last visit” to the prison, he said, adding that he only found out about his son’s escape through television reports and social media.
“The first news was quite shocking. I hope that God protects him and that he stays alive for a long time,” he said.
Another fugitive is Zakaria Zubeidi, a former head of the Jenin branch of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and a well-known figure among Palestinians and Israelis.
His father Kamal told AFP that the family was “very happy” about his escape.
“But at the same time we fear for the life of Zakaria and the young people who accompany him,” he said. “So far the news is good and I hope everyone is safe and sound.”
One branch of Israel’s investigation into the escape is how it succeeded without the prison guards noticing.
Public broadcaster Kan reported that the men were visible on surveillance cameras as they exited the tunnel exit, but no one was monitoring the screens at the time.
A guard in charge of that sector of the prison may even have been sleeping on duty, Kan added.
Meanwhile, a journalist from the Maariv daily said that the construction of the tunnel could have taken the inmates up to five months, according to elements of the investigation.