The six Palestinian fugitives who escaped from an Israeli high-security jail through a tunnel dug under a sink are back in custody, after the Israeli army said Sunday it had recaptured the last two.
The prisoners, who were being held for attacks on the Jewish state, became heroes among many Palestinians when reports emerged that they had excavated using tools as basic as a spoon.
The full weight of Israel’s security arsenal was deployed to catch them, including aerial drones, road checkpoints and an army mission to Jenin, where many of the men grew up.
The massive manhunt lasted almost fifteen days, and four of the six were recaptured last week.
In a tweet on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces said the latter two had surrendered “after being surrounded by security forces acting precisely on the basis of precise intelligence.”
The men, Ayham Kamamji, 35, and Munadel Infeiat, 26, are members of the Islamic Jihad, an Islamist armed Palestinian movement.
They were arrested in a joint operation with counter-terrorism forces in Jenin, in the West Bank, the army said in a press statement, and “are currently being questioned.”
Two other men who had assisted the fugitives were also detained, he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett congratulated security forces on Twitter, saying the operation was “impressive, sophisticated and swift.”
Six fugitives were members of militant groups
The six fugitives were members of Palestinian militant groups who were convicted by Israeli courts of conspiring or carrying out attacks against Israelis.
Originally from Kafr Dan, near Jenin, Kamamji was arrested in 2006 and imprisoned for life for the kidnapping and murder of a young Israeli settler, Eliahu Asheri.
Islamic Jihad said Kamamji suffered from abdominal and intestinal disease in prison and was subjected to “medical negligence” by prison authorities.
Infeiat, arrested last year, had been imprisoned several times previously for his role in the armed group and was awaiting sentencing at the time of the escape.
The other four men recaptured last week included Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, the alleged mastermind behind the leak, and Zakaria Zubeidi, who led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s armed wing of the Fatah movement.
Zubeidi was found hiding in a truck park on the outskirts of Nazareth, in northern Israel, along with another of the men, Mohammad Ardah, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 for his role in the armed wing of Islamic Jihad. .
Kuwaiti artist sculpts ‘freedom spoon’
Questions remain as to how the embarrassing incident may have occurred, and a formal investigation has been announced.
A lawyer for Yaqub Qadri, the sixth fugitive, told Palestinian television that the inmates had not planned to escape when they did so on September 6.
She said they rushed to do it that day because they feared the guards would become suspicious and noticed changes in her cell.
The escape had been planned for months, Ardah’s lawyer told AFP.
“Mahmud told me that he started digging (the tunnel) in December,” he said.
Ardah told him that he used spoons, plates, and even the handle of a kettle to dig the tunnel from his cell.
Since then, the spoons have become a symbol of Palestinian resistance, and protesters both inside and outside the Palestinian territories wear them in demonstrations.
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It has also inspired works of art, for example in Kuwait, where the artist Maitham Abdal has sculpted a giant hand that firmly holds a spoon, the “spoon of freedom”, as he calls it.