AFP, published on Monday September 06, 2021 at 4:31 p.m.

In a script reminiscent of the Hollywood film “Shawshank Redemption”, six Palestinians, including a former leader of an armed group, escaped from a prison in Israel on Monday via a tunnel under a sink, triggering a vast hunt for man.

Before dawn, the Israeli prison services said that an initial alarm was triggered around 3:00 a.m. (midnight GMT) when residents claimed to have seen “suspicious persons” in the vicinity of Gilboa (north) prison, where they are imprisoned hundreds of Palestinians.

Prison service images show a tunnel under a large ceramic bathroom, at the foot of a sink, through which inmates escaped from this high security prison. Outside the prison, police located a hole in the ground.

The penitentiary services said they were in the process of relocating some 400 Gilboa prisoners held for “security crimes” to prevent them from escaping through other tunnels that may have been dug.

This rare escape is reminiscent of the American film directed by Frank Darabont, “Shawshank redemption” (Les Evadés ou à l’Ombre by Shawshank, 1994), in which a man escapes from prison via a tunnel he took years to dig in secret.

This escape, which took Israel by surprise, comes as the country begins the Jewish holiday season, starting with the New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, qualifying the escape “of very serious”, assured to follow in real time the tracking of the fugitives.

The Israeli police have launched a vast manhunt and indicated at the end of the day still trying to locate the fugitives, while rumors are ringing on social networks and WhatsApp messaging about the evolution of the searches.

Sniffer dogs are also at work and checkpoints have been set up in the vicinity of the prison.

According to Israeli media, the escapees may have already returned to the occupied West Bank where, in some areas, security is theoretically controlled by Palestinian units.

The Israeli army has made aerial observation means available to the police and says it has prepared its troops to intervene if necessary in the West Bank, Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

It was also deployed around Jenin (northern West Bank), where many escapees come from, noted an AFP journalist reporting gunshots in the air in support of the fugitives.

“For the moment the situation is calm, but the surveillance is unprecedented,” Akram Rajoub, governor of the Jenin region, where some anticipate an offensive by the Israeli army, told AFP.

The Jenin refugee camp, which adjoins the city of the same name, is “used to incursions” by the Israeli army, even though it is located in an area under Palestinian control, Hassan al-Amouri, chief told AFP. of the local people’s committee. “Anything is possible,” he added of a possible Israeli offensive in this heavily armed camp.

The escapees were imprisoned for having, according to Israel, prepared or carried out attacks against Israelis, like Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, imprisoned since 1996 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

This veteran of Israeli prisons is a known member of Islamic Jihad – one of the main Palestinian armed movements – who was placed in solitary confinement a few years ago after the discovery of tunnels dug in an Israeli penitentiary, according to Islamic Jihad.

One of the fugitives, Zakaria al-Zoubeidi, was the leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He pledged in 2007 to lay down his arms in exchange for an agreement with Israel to remove him from its list of wanted Palestinians.

But the Israeli authorities later reneged on the deal, with Israel’s internal security service claiming he had been involved in “various attacks”. The man was arrested and imprisoned in 2019.

The Islamist movement Hamas, in power in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, and the Islamic Jihad hailed this escape.

“It is a heroic and courageous act, a victory for the will and determination of our heroic prisoners, a real setback for the Zionist security system, which the occupation presents as the best in the world,” said Fawzi Barhoum, Hamas spokesman quoted in a statement.

According to the army, the police had also deployed on Monday checkpoints around the Gaza Strip to prevent fugitives from trying to enter this territory under Israeli blockade but under Hamas control.

In various towns in the enclave, Islamic Jihad supporters were distributing candy to celebrate the escape, AFP photographers noted.

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