Reports say six “jihadist” Palestinian prisoners dug an escape tunnel with a rusty spoon to escape one of Israel’s safest prisons.
In a Hollywood-style breakout, in the far north of the West Bank, clever inmates left their unaware inmates behind in the harsh Gulbao prison.
The Jerusalem Post reported that six Palestinians carefully hid a rusty spoon behind the poster.
At around 3:33 a.m. Monday, local farmers warned authorities that “suspicious figures” were hiding in nearby fields.
Panicked officials are believed to have discovered a hole in the cell floor, which helped the prisoners crawl through a tunnel they had dug to emerge on the other side of the outer wall.
A massive search was launched for the Dhatai group – which includes a former militant – after security stumbled upon a tunnel dug under Dhatai.
Security officials are now on the move to apprehend the fugitives, all of whom have been accused of planning or carrying out attacks on Israelis.
The search includes aerial surveillance vehicles, sniffer dogs, roadblocks and checkpoints.
Information about his escape prompted some Palestinians to fire guns in the air to celebrate at the Jenin governorate.
But one news agency likened the breakout to a Hollywood-style escape.
Footage released by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) reminded commentators of the release of the notorious 1994 prison escape Shashank.
The IPS released a video showing agents inspecting a narrow tunnel under a sink and another looking at a gravel hole just outside the prison walls.
The fugitives include Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, a prominent leader in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, an armed group linked to the victory during the Second Intifada in 2000-2005.
He was later granted a general amnesty along with other militants associated with the victory, but was re-arrested by Israeli authorities in 2019 on new suspicion of terrorism.
According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, the other five prisoners were members of Islamic Jihad, four of whom were serving life sentences.
They are 26 to 49 years old.
Hundreds of Islamic Jihad supporters rallied in Gaza, and the militant group sent incendiary balloons to the border in front of Israel in support of the escaped prisoners.
Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab said, “This is a great act of bravery, which will severely shock the Israeli security system.”
The fugitives are reportedly returning to their hometown of Jenin, in the occupied West Bank, about 25 kilometers (15 miles) away.
Public Security Minister Omar Barlio claimed that extensive planning had been carried out and that detainees may have received outside help.
Palestinian prisoners are thought to have used smuggled cell phones to communicate with outsiders, and the fugitives may have managed to escape.
This is the largest Palestinian escape from an Israeli prison since 1987.
It was the first time that six Islamic Jihad militants had been released from a high-security prison months before the start of the first intifada in Gaza, or the Palestinian uprising against Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Naphtali Bennett called it a “serious breakout” that would require a concerted effort by Israel’s various security agencies to track down the fugitives.
An Israeli prison service official called the escape a “major security and intelligence failure.”
There is no indication that Israeli authorities consider the fugitives an immediate threat.
But officials said they had set up roadblocks and were patrolling the area.
Israeli Army Radio added that 400 detainees had been transferred as a precautionary measure against additional escape attempts.
President Mahmoud Abbas’s victorious party praised the escape, and an official Twitter account posted a picture of Zubeidi calling it a tunnel of freedom.