Police Apprehend Four of Six Fugitive Prisoners as Manhunt Continues

YERUSHALAYIM -
Palestinian terrorist Mahmoud Ardah sits after being arrested, following his escape from Gilboa Prison, in the village of Umm al-Ghanam. (Israel Police)

Four of the six Palestinian security prisoners who escaped from the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel on Monday are now back in authorities’ custody, the Israel Police confirmed.

Zakaria Zubeidi, the former commander of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and Islamic Jihad operative Mohammed al-Arida were apprehended by the police counterterrorism unit near the northern town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam at around 5 a.m. Shabbos morning.

The police said the two were stopped by Northern District Police officers in a parking lot for trucks that was canvassed as part of the manhunt.

According to Kan 11 News, Zubeidi resisted arrest and tried to escape again, but was overpowered immediately.

On Friday night, security forces nabbed PIJ terrorists Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, and Mohammad Qassem Arida – believed to be the mastermind behind the jailbreak – near Nazareth.

None of the four were armed at the time of their arrest, leading authorities to believe that they did not have outside assistance after their escape.

The four have been handed over to the custody of the Shin Bet security agency for questioning.

Zakaria Zubeidi, the former commander of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and another Islamic Jihad operative were arrested in northern Israel just hours after two PIJ escapees were caught near Nazareth. A manhunt for the remaining two fugitives continues with full force.

According to available details, Qadri and Arida were apprehended after a resident of Nazareth contacted the police and reported that they had approached him, asking for help and food.

Police and Border Police forces, aided by aerial and canine units, canvassed the area and the two were found and taken into custody within 45 minutes of the report.

Yakub Kadar arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Nazareth, on Motzoei Shabbos. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A video circulating on social media showed Israeli police shackling a man into the backseat of a police vehicle and asking the suspect for his name. The man calmly identifies himself as Qadri and answers “yes” when asked whether he is one of the escapees. Qadri was serving two life sentences for attempted murder and bomb planting.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Northern District Police Commander Shimon Lavi praised the troops’ work.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has threatened retaliation if any harm came to its operatives jailed in Israel or the fugitives.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum responded to four’s arrest, saying that it was “only one round in the open and ongoing conflict with the Israeli occupation.”

As the manhunt progressed, and given the unrest among Palestinian security prisoners in the course of the past week, the military has reinforced its deployment in Yehudah and Shomron with four battalions, citing concerns that the fugitives’ arrest would trigger an escalation on the ground, especially in the Jenin area.

For the Palestinians, the fugitives terrorists are “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. Fighting against Israel and taking part in attacks against the Israeli military or even civilians is a source of pride for many.

As soon as the news about the arrests of the first two fugitives was confirmed, a flurry of bitter posts expressing disappointment and shock filled the Palestinian social media sphere.

There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas official Abdeltaif al-Qanou said despite the re-arrest, the prisoners have “scored a victory and harmed the prestige of the Israeli security system.”

The Gilboa Prison break is one of the worst jailbreaks in Israel’s history. The initial investigation has exposed major flaws in the Israel Prison Service and set off days of angry finger-pointing and calls for a commission of inquiry.