Israel to open formal inquiry into prison break

Ministers have proposed forming a commission of inquiry led by a retired judge

Israeli troops clash with Palestinian protesters in the city centre of Hebron in the West Bank. EPA
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Israel on Thursday announced a formal inquiry into lapses that enabled six Palestinians to escape a high-security prison as it pressed on with a manhunt for the fugitives.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev said in a statement that he and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had agreed to form a commission of inquiry, led by a retired judge, into Monday's jailbreak at Gilboa prison.

Touring another prison earlier on Thursday, Mr Bar Lev vowed “to leave no stone unturned in order to find out what caused this failure".

The commission, which must still be approved by Mr Bennett's Cabinet, was called as Israeli forces continued to search the country and the occupied West Bank for the six escapees, who are all accused of links to attacks on Israelis.

The army has sent reinforcements to the West Bank, which it placed under “general closure”, with much of the focus centred on Jenin, the home of prominent escapee Zakaria Zubeidi.

Palestinians have celebrated the group, staging rallies and some riots in the West Bank and the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in a show of support.

Some Palestinian detainees have also lit fires at several prisons in recent days, prompting the Israel Prison Service to suspend visitation rights from September 12 to 14.

An Israeli injunction is in effect against publishing details of the jailbreak investigation, even as local media report on the scramble to recover from the embarrassing lapse and prevent any possible attack by the fugitives.

Former prison service commissioner Orit Adato told reporters on Thursday that the escape amounted to “a huge crisis” for the IPS, even if such incidents are extremely rare.

“Ninety-nine per cent of what they were doing was efficient until now, but one per cent was not,” she said.

The fugitives include five members of Islamic Jihad and Zubeidi, who is tied to Fatah, the secular movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

They fled Gilboa through a tunnel dug beneath a sink in a cell.

Ms Adato said a major area of focus for the IPS should be the intelligence failure to uncover the escape plan early on.

“The intelligence [personnel] inside prison didn't know anything, which is really a problem,” she said.

Updated: September 09, 2021, 9:31 PM