Israel Cancels Family Visits for Palestinian Prisoners After Riots, Red Cross Says

As manhunt for six Palestinian fugitives enters fourth day, Wednesday's violent disturbances in Israeli prisons lead to sanctions on inmates

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Israeli soldiers search for the escaped prisoners near the West Bank fence, on Thursday.
Israeli soldiers search for the escaped prisoners near the West Bank fence, on Thursday.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Israel canceled family visits for Palestinian prisoners until the end of the month after mass riots broke out in jails across the country, the Palestinian Prisoners' Club said Thursday, citing the Palestinian Red Cross.

Following the escape of six high-security prisoners, five of whom are affiliated with the Islamic Jihad militant group, the Prison Service announced that it would be dispersing inmates who belong to the movement in prisons throughout the country, a step that is to continue on Thursday. About 300 of them have been moved so far.

Prison Service Commissioner Katy Perry has also decided to carry out searches of cells, increase the number of guards in each wing and keep the cells of security prisoners locked throughout the day. 

In a letter to Prison Service staff, Perry wrote that the prison break is "a difficult, jarring and planned event with many consequences." She added that she is "here to continue and guide" the workers, as she faces growing criticism for the failure and calls to resign. 

As a response to the decision to move its prisoners, Palestinian inmates affiliated with Islamic Jihad clashed with guards in Israel's prisons Wednesday, and set cells on fire in Ketziot and Rimon prisons. There were no casualties, and prison staff extinguished the blaze. 

Meanwhile, the extensive manhunt for the escaped inmates has now entered its fourth day. The investigation of the prison break is expected to be transferred on Thursday to the Israel Police's international crime unit from the central unit of the Northern District Police, in order to allow the latter unit's investigators to focus on other events.

At the same time, the national unit for investigating prison staff is still probing whether jailers aided in the escape. So far, 19 guards have been questioned, some twice. As of now, a senior police official said that there is no indication that any guards cooperated with the escaped prisoners. Police are expected to continue questioning the staff of the Gilboa Prison on Thursday.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said on Thursday that the police, IDF and Shin Bet security service are “conducting a manhunt that will not end until we get our hands on the escaped terrorists, correct the failures that led to their escape and if professional negligence is found – we will deal with that too."

The six escaped inmates – five members of Islamic Jihad and one Fatah member – are residents of the Jenin area. Among the runaways is Zakaria Zubeidi, the former leader of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and a Fatah member. The six escaped through a tunnel they dug from within their cell, apparently over the last six months. 

The Israeli military said that it has mobilized six companies, two brigades, two search teams and a number of specialized squads over the course of the Rosh Hashanah holiday to aid in the search effort.

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