Prison Break: Israel Backtracks on Dispersing Islamic Jihad Inmates After Threats of Riots

Inmates belonging to Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Ofer Prison say they would set their cells alight and harm guards if they are transferred to other jails ■ Four of Gilboa fugitives' relatives arrested, Palestinians say

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Gilboa Prison from where six Palestinian inmates convicted of attacks against Israelis escaped on Monday.
Gilboa Prison from where six Palestinian inmates convicted of attacks against Israelis escaped on Monday. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The Israel Prison Service has decided against dispersing Palestinian Islamic Jihad inmates from Ofer Prison in the West Bank after prisoners had threatened mass disturbances, including arson and harm to guards if they are transferred to other prisons, according to prison authority sources.

Over 48 hours have passed since six Palestinian prisoners convicted of carrying attacks against Israelis escaped from Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, and despite expansive search efforts by the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service, no progress has been made. Five of the fugitives belong to Islamic Jihad.

>> Palestinian prison break could embolden terror groups in West Bank and Gaza

A short time after the six had made their escape on Monday, Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry decided that about 400 prisoners pertaining to Islamic Jihad from all Israeli prisons would be separated and placed in different maximum security facilities. The purpose of the move was to house only one Islamic Jihad prisoner in any given prison cell.

Hole in the ground from which six Palestinian prisoners escaped, outside Gilboa Prison, Israel, last month.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The prison authority began transferring inmates from prisons in the north of the country, and prisoners from Gilboa and Megiddo Prison in the north were moved to other jails, mainly in the south.  

But about 150 Islamic Jihad prisoners from Ofer refused to vacate the prison and some clashed with the guards. Currently, three Islamic Jihad prisoners are housed in one cell in Ofer on average.

According to Israel Prison Service sources, fearing mass disturbances, Central District Commander Avichai Ben-Hamo later decided against moving the prisoners, and they currently remain at Ofer. "They are just scared of them," one senior Israel Prison Service official said.

The Shin Bet security service has questioned some prisoners considered senior figures in Islamic Jihad in a bid to find out whether they were aware of the escapees' plan to flee from Gilboa.

The Israel Prison Service said in a statement: "According to an operational order by the Prison Service commissioner, Islamic Jihad prisoners are being moved between different maximum security prisons. So far, about 170 inmates have been transferred and over 400 are expected to be moved by this weekend. After several inmates in Ofer Prison resisted the move, they were taken to punishment cells and will face disciplinary proceedings." 

The leadership of Islamic Jihad prisoners threatened to go on hunger strike in protest of the Israel Prison Service's intention to disperse the inmates. "We'll fight the steps Israel is taking against the prisoners even if we have to pay with our lives. We are preparing for a hunger strike starting next week unless Israel's aggression against Islamic Jihad prisoners ends."   

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have entered Jenin – where the escapees hail from – as part of their extensive search effort and in order to carry out arrests. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that one person was shot in the head and taken to a Jenin hospital in moderate and stable condition after clashes erupted between the soldiers and locals in the West Bank village of Arabba.  

The Israeli military arrested Tuesday overnight four of the escapees' relatives in Arabba near Jenin, according to Palestinian reports.

Prisoners belonging to the Hamas militant organization attacked a guard in Gilboa with boiling water the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to a Palestinian source. The prison authority said that "the incident was brought under control immediately, and no harm was caused to the guard."  

Hamas later warned Israel against taking punitive measures against Palestinian prisoners in all Israeli jails, including searching the inmates' cells and transferring them to other facilities. 

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