Other prisoners in the cellblock from which six Palestinians escaped last week knew about the tunnel they had dug, but the Prison Service’s intelligence officers failed to learn about it. That was revealed during the questioning of four of the six escapees who were caught over the weekend.
A Palestinian source close to the prisoners confirmed that others knew about the planned jailbreak and the tunnel being dug underneath cell number five, particularly Islamic Jihad prisoners from that wing of Gilboa Prison. Five of the six escapees were members of Islamic Jihad.
“A lot of people knew about the tunnel,” the source said, adding that the digging went on for about six months without prison officials ever noticing.
The investigation of the jailbreak to date has revealed that Zakaria Zubeidi – who belongs to Fatah rather than Islamic Jihad – was moved into that cell a few hours before the prisoners fled. Defense officials say he was probably included in the jailbreak in hopes that his ties in the nearby Palestinian city of Jenin and with Palestinian Authority officials would be helpful after the escapees had made it out of the prison. They were apparently hoping the PA would protect them from Israel once they reached Jenin.
The PA’s prisoner administration announced on Monday that 1,380 Palestinian prisoners from various Palestinian organizations will begin a hunger strike on Friday as part of what they term a campaign to protect their rights. In addition, the prisoners’ leadership inside the jails announced that they view the directors and chief security officers of Gilboa and Shata prisons as targets for attack because of what they deem the violent oppression of the prisoners.
Defense officials think that one of the two escaped prisoners who remain at large, Monadal Infiat, is already in Jenin. The other, Iham Kamamji, is thought to still be in Israel, probably in the vicinity of the Jezreel Valley.
The defense establishment has footage from last Friday showing Infiat, or someone who looks like him, crossing into the West Bank near Jalameh, carrying two bags. Palestinians regularly enter Israel illegally at that location. The footage has bolstered the assessment that he is already in Jenin.
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The assessment that Kamamji is still in Israel is based mainly on the absence of any evidence that he has made it to the West Bank. Because he was convicted of murder, police are prepared for the possibility that he will attack anyone who tries to capture him.
A police source said that after a failed escape attempt from Gilboa in 2014, the police recommended that a barbed-wire fence be built around the prison to make it harder for anyone who made it out of the building to escape entirely.
However, the Prison Service repeatedly postponed constructing the fence, claiming it didn’t have enough money. That is also the reason it gave for its decision not to pour concrete into the empty space underneath the toilet and shower that the prisoners used in making their tunnel.
Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev plans to decide by Yom Kippur on the members of the commission of inquiry into the jailbreak and then bring the proposal to the cabinet for approval.
The panel will probably be headed by retired judge Menachem Finkelstein, who until recently sat on the Central District Court in Lod and handled serious crime cases. Before that, he held various positions in the military prosecution, culminating in the job of military advocate general during the second intifada.