Palestinian Escapees Wanted to Reach West Bank, Says One of Their Lawyers

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A protest in support of the Palestinian fugitives in Nazareth, on Monday
A protest in support of the Palestinian fugitives in Nazareth, on MondayCredit: Rami Shllush

The six Palestinians who fled an Israeli prison last week planned to reach the West Bank and had no intention to commit terror acts, says the lawyer of one of the escapees.

After their escape, the prisoners were able to follow the manhunt via a radio they had smuggled along from the Gilboa prison. According to attorney Raslan Mahagna, the prisoners waited for the search efforts to wane before trying to cross into the West Bank.

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Mahagna, who met with Mahmoud Aradeh on Tuesday, said the group didn't expect to assistance from Arab citizens of Israel or anyone else and "didn't want to get anybody in trouble." He added that the prisoners never considered to reach Lebanon or Jordan.

Contrary to early reports, Mahagna also emphasized that the six passed by "quite a few Jewish towns and Kibbutzim in the Jezreel Valley [area], but had no intention of entering nor of committing a terror attack." Aradeh also told him that "all we wanted was to be free."

Zakaria Zubeidi, the most prominent member of the group, told his lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, on Wednesday that his decision to escape was spontaneous. "If someone forgot to lock the door, wouldn't you escape?" Zubeidi said.

Zubeidi also told Feldman that he joined the group at a late stage of planning. He personally planned on reaching the West Bank city of Jenin by foot, but the group was divided on whether to stay in Israel or go to the West Bank.

"I was shocked that they didn't have any sort of plan," Zubeidi told Feldman. Feldman works under the assumption that Zubeidi was brought into the escape team because the inmates hoped that somebody of his status could help them find assistance.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Palestinian Prisoners' Club called off a hunger strike among 1,380 Palestinian inmates in several Israeli jails which was scheduled for Friday.

On Tuesday, Haaretz reported that Israeli investigators have discovered that a prisoner who was due to join the prison break backed out at the last moment, and was apparently replaced by another prisoner who did escape.

The reluctant prisoner is said to have made the decision just hours before prison cells at the facility were locked for the night. The group plotting the escape then approached other inmates to take his place. It appears that the replacement prisoner was Iham Kamamji, who until the eve of the breakout had been living in another cell and, like Zakaria Zubeidi, joined the others in their cell just prior to the breakout.

The probe into the jailbreak at the Gilboa prison last week has revealed that the work on the tunnel under a cell from which six prisoners escaped began in November and December of last year and that roughly 11 prisoners were in on the plot, with six of them breaking out. Since the jailbreak four of the six escaped inmates have been captured.

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