Bennett: Series of Failures Led to Escape of Palestinian Fugitives

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, today.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, today.Credit: Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the escape of six Palestinian high-security prisoners last week "a series of mistakes and failures" at a government meeting on Sunday.

Bennett added that "Some of the government systems have atrophied in past years." On Monday, six prisoners, all of whom have been convicted or accused of planning or carrying out attacks on Israelis, broke out of Gilboa Prison. Four of them were apprehended in northern Israel over the weekend.

"The amount of energy and efforts that have been invested in fixing this series of mistakes and failures that simply did not need to happen is massive," Bennett said. "It demands an investigation."

He added that together with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, "we decided to establish a committee to examine the escape. This will be a broad and serious investigation. We're taking a wider view and considering this a wake-up call."    

Bennett said that some of the government's establishments have backslid in recent years, "and need to undergo a streamlining, repair and betterment process for excellence. We can and must work differently, especially in a security agency such as the Prison Service: quality appointments in accordance with professional parameters alone, setting national goals and forming an organized work plan. Everything that's ruined can be fixed."

On Saturday, the Nazareth Magistrate's Court extended the detention of the four prisoners who were caught by security forces on Friday and Saturday – Zekaria Zubeidi, Mohammad Aradeh, Mahmoud Aradeh and Yakub Kadari. Police suspect that they were plotting to carry out a terror attack that they planned before their escape.

The manhunt for the two remaining fugitives continued into Sunday. Investigators believe that the six broke out into groups after breaking out of the prison, and that one of them managed to cross into the West Bank, while the other is believed to be hiding out in the Galilee.

Palestinian prisoner Yakub Kadari in the Nazareth Magistrate's Court, yesterday.Credit: Rami Shllush

According to Palestinian reports, Israeli forces searched the Jenin area on Saturday; Palestinians shot at troops in the nearby village of Araqah. Searches continue in northern Israel as well.

On Monday, Rosh Hashana eve, six security prisoners escaped from cell No. 5 in Wing 2 of the prison in Jezreel Valley. The six escaped through a tunnel they dug from within their cell, apparently over the last six months. All the escaped convicts – five members of Islamic Jihad and one Fatah member– five members of Islamic Jihad and one Fatah member – are convicted or charged with planning or carrying out terror attacks against Israelis, including shootings, bombings and kidnappings. 

It is believed the prisoners removed a metal grate that was welded into the floor of the toilet and then discovered an empty space underneath it, created when the prison was built. This space led to an area which was 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) outside the prison wall, which was close to their cell. The length of the tunnel they passed through is 30 meters, at the end of which they dug an escape shaft.

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