Israel military recaptures last two Palestinian prison escapees

Fugitives were found in the West Bank city of Jenin

The last two of six Palestinians who broke out of a high-security prison nearly two weeks ago were detained in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, ending a massive manhunt by Israeli forces.

They were caught in the city of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, which lies less than 15 kilometres from the prison.

The pair “surrendered after being surrounded by security forces” and were detained along with two people accused of helping them, the Israeli military said in a statement.

Israeli police identified the fugitives as Munadel Infeiat, 26, and 35-year-old Ayham Kamamji and said they had been hiding in a house.

The latter’s father, Fouad Kamamji, told AP news agency that his son had called and said he had decided to surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners”.

According to local media reports, some Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Israeli forces as they withdrew from the city.

The military said its forces also came under live fire as “several riots broke out in a number of different locations”.

The recaptured prisoners, most of whom are from Jenin, and their alleged accomplices were being interrogated on Sunday.

The breakout from Gilboa prison on September 6 proved deeply embarrassing for the Israeli security establishment, which has vowed to investigate how the six prisoners crawled out undetected.

It sparked a vast operation to track them down, which involved drones and hundreds of additional checkpoints.

The prison break was described on Sunday as a “severe mishap” by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who praised security forces for their “impressive, sophisticated and quick” operation to apprehend the fugitives.

Five of the men are members of the Islamic Jihad militant group while the sixth, Zakaria Zubeidi, previously led an armed wing of the Fatah movement.

Some of the escapees had been convicted of attacks against Israelis.

The six escapees have been celebrated as heroes by Palestinians, who have lauded their audacious plot to tunnel their way out of a cell.

Spoons have become a symbol of Palestinian resistance, after reports they were used by the prisoners to dig a hole under a sink.

A lawyer for Mahmud Abdullah Ardah, one of the four prisoners recaptured on September 10, said the group started to bore through the cell floor in December.

They used spoons, plates and a kettle handle, attorney Roslan Mahajana told AFP news agency.

Four of the runaways were detained in pairs near Nazareth, an Arab-Israeli city in northern Israel close to Gilboa prison. On Sunday, a Nazareth court extended their detention by 10 days.

Rallies have been held in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, in support of the escapees and other Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The men have been heralded as “freedom fighters” by the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, though on Sunday there was no immediate comment on the arrests by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian Authority, led by Mr Abbas, has limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank and co-operates with Israel on security issues.

Updated: September 19th 2021, 5:20 PM
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