The Great Escape: Six Palestinians tunnel their way out of Israeli prison

Six Palestinian prisoners have escaped from a high-security prison in Israel by digging a tunnel. 

The prisoners escaped from the Gilboa prison, which is supposed to be one of Israel’s most secure facilities, on Monday morning.

Local media reports said the men, who most probably shared the same prison cell, escaped through a tunnel dug from below a toilet in their cell, from which the prisoners crawled their way out of the facility.

“Overnight, we received a number of reports about suspicious figures in agricultural fields and from the prison service, which discovered very quickly that prisoners were missing from their cells and that six escaped,” police spokesman Eli Levy told Israeli Kan Radio.

Israeli media said a preliminary investigation found that the six prisoners, who were housed together in Cell 5 in Wing 2 of the prison, which usually holds inmates associated with the Fatah movement, spent months digging the tunnel under the bathroom floor in their cell.

The six managed to dig a tunnel under the wall and the dirt road that surrounds the prison. It’s believed that they were assisted by individuals from the outside, communicating with a cellphone smuggled into the prison.

The six prisoners were identified as:

Mahmoud Arda, 46 years old, from Jenin, imprisoned since 1996, sentenced to a life and a member of Islamic Jihad.

Mohammad Arda, 39 years old, from Jenin, imprisoned since 2002, sentenced to life and a member of Islamic Jihad.

Yaaqob Qadri, 49 years old, from Jenin, imprisoned since 2003, sentenced to life and a member of Islamic Jihad.

Ayham Kamanji, 35 years old, from Jenin, imprisoned since 2006, sentenced to life and a member of Islamic Jihad.

Zakaria Zubaidi, 46 years old, from Jenin, imprisoned since 2019, who was not sentenced, and is a former commander of Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

And Munadel Infeiat, 26 years old, from Jenin, and imprisoned since 2019. He has not been sentenced and is a member of Islamic Jihad.

‘Slap in the face’ of Israel

Meanwhile, the head of the Islamic Jihad movement, Ziyad al-Nakhalah said that what happened in Gilboa prison last night was “a day of joy and a new day in the fight of the Palestinian people.”

“It is a group of freedom, which broke all Israeli security measures and granted our people a dear day and a safe passage from Israeli cells to freedom,” Al-Nakhalah added.

Al-Nakhalah stressed that the Palestinian people in the West Bank should protect the fighters, “who dedicated their freedom to us. We don’t want anyone to say that someone helped Israeli forces to chase them.”

Other Palestinian resistance factions also hailed the escape, calling it a “strong slap to the Israeli military” and “a brave and heroic act.”

An Israeli prison. Editorial credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

Tthe spokesman of Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of Islamic Jihad, said: “We are in front of a great incident which is an utter failure for the occupation army and a strong slap to the Israeli military and the whole Israeli system.”

The Hamas movement praised the act as “a brave and heroic act.”

“This is a victory for the will and determination of our heroic prisoners, and a real challenge to the Zionist security system, which the occupation boasts as being the best in the world,” Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum said, adding that the “Zionist enemy has never and will never win, no matter how much power it possesses. The struggle for freedom from the occupier continues.”

People in the besieged Gaza Strip celebrated the escape by distributing sweets. Mosques in the Gaza were also heard celebrating the incident and praying for the prisoners’ safety.

Meanwhile, Israeli police, soldiers, and agents from Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet joined the search effort, officials said. Sniffer dogs were deployed and checkpoints set up in the area surrounding Gilboa.

The army said its forces were “prepared and deployed” in the occupied West Bank as part of the operation.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the escape “a serious event that required a comprehensive effort by all of the security services.” The premier was “receiving regular updates regarding the search efforts for the terrorists,” said a statement.

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