Officials Laud ‘Sophisticated, Impressive Operation’ in Nabbing Final Two Fugitives

YERUSHALAYIM -
IDF soldiers guard along a fence leading to the Shomron, as part of search efforts to capture six Palestinian fugitives who had escaped from Gilboa prison, near the village of Muqeibila in northern Israel, Sept. 9. (Reuters/Ammar Awad/File Photo)

Israeli forces early Sunday caught the last two of six Palestinian terrorists who had tunneled out of a maximum-security jail nearly two weeks ago.

Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist group, were apprehended in Jenin following a 13-day manhunt.

According to the IDF, special forces comprising of IDF, Shin Bet security service, and Israel Police troops, surrounded the two’s hideout and a short while afterward they surrendered and were taken into custody.

The IDF said both fugitives were unarmed when they surrendered, nor did they attempt to resist arrest. Both were handed over to the Shin Bet for further interrogation.

The operation was overseen by Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf, commander of the IDF’s Yehudah and Shomron Division, and by Col. Arik Moyal, the IDF said.

“The Police Counterterrorism Unit, Shin Bet, and the Charuv Reconnaissance Unit entered the city of Jenin, sealed off and surrounded the house, including gunfire around the building in which the fugitive terrorists were hiding. They came out unarmed and without resistance,” the IDF said in a statement.

“The two terrorists surrendered and came out without opening fire. The arrest was conducted smoothly,” said Lt. Col. Alon Hanoni, deputy commander of the IDF’s Menashe Regional Command, which is responsible for the Jenin area.

The Sept. 6 escape from the Gilboa Prison in northern Israel is one of the gravest jailbreaks in the country’s history. It exposed a series of gross oversights by the Israel Prison Service, promoting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to task a governmental commission on inquiry to review the incident. The panel will be headed by retired judge and former IDF Judge Advocate General Menachem Finkelstein.

Bennett lauded the fugitives’ capture on Sunday morning, saying “It’s over and done with. All six terrorists have been captured and will return to prison, in an impressive, sophisticated and rapid operation by the Shin Bet, the police and the IDF.”

He thanked security forces “for working tirelessly day and night to capture the fugitives,” adding, in a reference to the failures of the IPS that “what went wrong can be repaired.”

Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai commended the troops involved in the manhunt as well.

“Since they escaped, the Israel Police, along with other security organizations, mobilized massive forces – thousands of police, Border Police and volunteers – in an intelligence, investigative and operational manhunt.

“Thanks to exceptional cooperation between all organizations, the police, the Shin Bet and the IDF, we managed to close the circle together,” he said.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev thanked security forces for their efforts, saying he was “proud of our troops for the skills and tactics employed in capturing the six fugitive terrorists.”

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav confirmed that security forces used deception tactics to avoid a major conflict during the raid that led to the final two fugitives’ arrest.

According to available details, the troops initially drew attention away from the house where Nafiyat and Kamamji were hiding by dispatching troops to a different part of Jenin as a distraction and only then sending a smaller team of special forces to the two’s actual location.

“We used trickery and deception, and many and varied intelligence efforts,” Kochav said. “We managed to make this event, which took place in the middle of the Jenin refugee camp, end without conflict and without casualties. The IDF and the Shin Bet used intelligence capabilities beyond the imagination during this operation.

“We will continue to act against anyone trying to undermine Israel’s security.”

Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for the Israeli police confirmed that Nafayat and Kamamji, were arrested without resistance. Two other men suspected of aiding them were arrested as well.

Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told the Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”

For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassam responded to the arrests on Sunday, saying “We salute and pay great homage to the heroes of the Freedom Tunnel in Gilboa Prison, who demonstrated the ability of the Palestinian to act in resistance in all circumstances and in all tools.”

He stressed that despite the fact all six fugitives are now back in Israeli custody, “This [escape] will remain irrefutable evidence of the fragility and weakness of the Zionist security system and its inability to withstand the will of the Palestinian fighter.”

Qassam noted that the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, the terrorist group’s military wing, will include the six “in any future prisoner exchange deal” and that freeing Palestinian prisoners would remain a “top priority” for Gaza’s rulers.