Israel captures four of the six Palestinians who escaped from Gilboa prison

This screen grab from video footage released by the Israeli police shows officers taking away Zakaria Zubeidi after capturing him near the northern city of Nazareth (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  September 10, 2021

Israeli forces carried out a massive manhunt following the daring escape of the Palestinian prisoners from a maximum security prison on Monday.

Israeli forces have captured four of the six Palestinian prisoners who made a bold escape from the high-security Gilboa prison earlier this week, Palestinian and Israeli media reported. 

Since the jailbreak on 6 September, the Israeli army has poured troops into the occupied West Bank and led a massive manhunt followed by a crackdown on Palestinian prisoners across its prisons, in what was seen as “collective punishment” by Palestinian factions and rights groups. 

Israeli police said that Zakaria Zubeidi, a high-profile former commander of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and Mohamed Qassem Ardah were arrested near the Palestinian town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam, hours after Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah and Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri were captured in the Jabal al-Qafzeh neighbourhood of the city of Nazareth. 

Zubeidi and Mohamed Ardah were found hiding in a truck parking lot near Nazareth.

Lawyers for the four prisoners said on Saturday that they have been denied access to their clients and Israeli intelligence continues to withhold information from them. 

“Our legal team is making a great and unremitting efforts to follow up on the fate of the four prisoners who were re-arrested by the occupation forces, and to know their conditions and places of detention,” the Palestinian Commission of Detainees Affairs said in a statement.

One of the lawyers, Khaled Mahajna, said in an interview that the legal team intends to submit an urgent petition to the district court in Lod to demand a meeting with their clients. 

“Until this moment, we have not been able to obtain information about their health, physical, and psychological conditions,” Mahajna said. 

Following the escape from the high-security Gilboa prison on Monday, Israeli authorities arrested family members of the prisoners in what the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society described as an attempt to pressure the escapees to turn themselves in.

Israeli authorities launched a manhunt and increased their military presence in the West Bank, installing checkpoints at entrances to Palestinian towns, including Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, and Qalqilya, where security officials believe the prisoners could have fled to.

Gilboa prison is 4km north of the West Bank and 14km west of Israel’s border with Jordan.

On Thursday, Jordanian officials denied media reports that the escapees had crossed into their territory.

Calls for General strike

Fatah condemned the capture of the four prisoners on Saturday, saying it will not weaken the resolve of Palestinians and Palestinian prisoners in the struggle against the Israeli occupation.

“The brutal assault and re-arrest of Zubeidi and his companions by the occupation army and security forces is a violation of international law, which dictates that detainees are to be protected and not harmed,” it said in a statement.

“The Israeli government bears full responsibility for any harm inflicted on the lives of our heroic detainees.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Liberation Organization said that Palestinian detainees are considered prisoners of war under international law and called on the international community to ensure the safety of Palestinian prisoners and put a stop to the inhuman conditions in Israeli prisons. 

On Saturday morning, Israeli forces used tear gas and sound bombs to disperse a group of Palestinian students marching towards the northern entrance of Bethlehem to protest against the capture of the four prisoners, according to the Palestinian state news agency Wafa

Palestinian activists and factions have called for a general strike in the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and Israel in solidarity with the captured prisoners.

Activists also called for massive rallies to take place across Palestinian territories on Saturday afternoon.

Israeli crackdown

Since the escape, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) has launched a crackdown on Palestinian prisoners, cutting break time to one hour a day, closing the prison canteen, and decreasing the number of inmates able to walk in the yard. Israel has also banned family visits for Palestinian prisoners.

The restrictions led to rising tensions inside Gilboa, Megiddo, Rimon, and Ketziot prisons in Israel. The IPS also began relocating hundreds of Islamic Jihad-linked inmates.

In Ketziot Prison, in the Negev region of southern Israel, Palestinian prisoners set fire to seven cells in protest at a raid carried out by special units and Israeli soldiers deployed from a nearby military base.

Meanwhile, Palestinians protested on Friday in several towns in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the besieged Gaza Strip in solidarity with prisoners inside Israeli jails.

Following the end of Friday prayers, Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and dispersed a sit-in protest being held in solidarity with the prisoners, arresting one young man.

At the gates of the compound, Hazem al-Jolani, a doctor from East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighbourhood, was killed after being severely wounded by Israeli fire.

Israeli forces closed Al-Aqsa’s Lion’s Gate following the incident and stormed Jolani’s house in Shuafat, according to footage on social media.