JERUSALEM: Israeli media reports say two more of the six Palestinian who broke out of a maximum-security prison this week have been arrested at dawn Saturday, leaving two prisoners at large.
The prisoners captured included Zakaria Zubeidi, a well-known militant leader from the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s. Photos showed Zubeidi and another unidentified man sitting on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed. Armed Israeli soldiers in civilian uniforms posed behind them.
There were no immediate details where the latest two escapees had been caught. It came hours after Israeli police said they had caught two of the six Palestinians whose daring escape has captured the country’s attention.
Shortly afterward, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket toward Israel that the Israeli military said was intercepted by air defenses. No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, which is believed to be linked to the re-arrest.
On Friday night, police said the first two were caught in the Arab-majority city of Nazareth in northern Israel. The announcement identified them as Mahmoud Aradeh and Yakub Kadari — members of the Islamic Jihad militant group who were both serving life sentences. They showed no resistance. Israeli media reports said a civilian alerted police to two suspicious figures.
A video circulating on social media showed Israeli police shackling a man from his feet into the backseat of a police vehicle and asking the suspect for his name. The man, wearing jeans and green T-shirt, calmly identifies himself as Kadari and answers “yes” when asked whether he is one of the escapees. Kadari was serving two life sentences for attempted murder and bomb planting.
The six Palestinians tunneled out of the Gilboa prison on Monday, setting off a furious manhunt across Israel and in the West Bank.
For the Palestinians, the fugitives were “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.
In the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank, Palestinians had organized sit-ins and joyful gatherings to celebrate the prison break.
They escapees included four members of the militant group Islamic Jihad who were serving life sentences as well Zubeidi. All of the prisoners are from the nearby city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
As soon as the news about the capture of the two fugitives was confirmed Friday, 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 Abdeltaif Al-Qanou, a spokesman for the Gaza-ruling Hamas movement, said despite the re-arrest, the prisoners have “scored a victory and harmed the prestige of the Israeli security system.”
The escape has exposed major flaws in Israel’s prison service and set off days of angry criticism and finger pointing. It has also increased tension between Israel and the Palestinians.
Earlier Friday, Hamas had called for “a day of rage” to protest Israeli crackdown against imprisoned Palestinians, but the day passed without major confrontation. But in Jerusalem, a Palestinian suspected attacker died shortly after being wounded by Israeli police gunfire in the town’s Old City, where he had reportedly tried to stab officers.