A massive manhunt was underway Monday morning after six Palestinians escaped from a high-security Israeli prison. They were identified by authorities as members of terrorist groups.
Five of the prisoners belonged to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization and one, Zakaria Zubeidi, was a former commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terrorist group affiliated with the Fatah faction.
The brigades carried out deadly attacks against Israelis during a 2000-2005 Palestinian Intifada.
The six were cellmates and tunneled out of Gilboa Prison in Beit Shean, where security forces launched a search.
They were reported missing around 4 a.m., but may have fled hours earlier.
The six were all in jail for life in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis, and all were considered highly dangerous. Three of them had attempted escape in the past.
An unnamed police source told Channel 12 the incident appeared to be “one of the gravest incidents” in recent memory.
According to Channel 13, Israeli security officials believe the six will attempt to flee to either Jordan or the Palestinian city of Jenin.
Army Radio said the men appeared to have received some outside help.
The PIJ praised the escape on Monday morning as a “victory over the occupation.”
Hamas, too, hailed the escape as a “heroic act of determination and willpower against the occupying forces.”
In Jenin, Zubeidi’s hometown and perhaps the home of the other escapees as well, celebratory gunfire was heard Monday morning. Residents handed out coffee and sweets to passersby.
An Israel Prison Service spokesperson said that the circumstances of the incident are being investigated.
A photo published by Palestinian media shows the IDs of the six suspected escaped prisoners.
An Israel Police spokesperson said there were not currently any security advisories in place for residents of the area following the incident, but urged them to exercise increased vigilance.