A preliminary police investigation into a rare prison break that saw six Palestinians escape a high-security in northern Israel, has revealed a series of blunders made by prison officials.
The shocking prison break caused Israeli authorities to launch a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the West Bank early Monday after six prisoners - all jailed for serious terror offenses - tunneled out of their cell and escaped from Gilboa Prison in the biggest prison break of its kind in decades.
The escape marks an embarrassing security breach just ahead of the Jewish New Year, when Israelis flock to the north to enjoy beaches, campsites and the Sea of Galilee. The prisoners appear to have gone into hiding and there was no indication Israeli authorities view them as an immediate threat.
The preliminary investigation revealed the tunnel had been dug very close to the prison guard tower. It is now being examined whether the guard who was on the shift during the escape had fallen asleep, a suggestion to which the Israel Prison Service has not officially responded.
In addition, it has emerged there were intelligence warnings about three of the prisoners before the escape, which suggested they were planning to flee.
According to police assessment, some of the suspects might have fled the country, while some might be in the Beit She'an Valley in northern Israel. As a result, police patrols around synagogues in the area have been bolstered.
A Prison Service source said they are preparing for the possibility that staff in prisons across Israel could be attacked and riots might break out.
Security officials said they have erected roadblocks and are conducting patrols in the area. Army Radio said 400 prisoners are being moved as a protective measure against any additional escape attempts.
It appeared to be the biggest Palestinian escape from an Israeli prison since 1987, when six militants from the Islamic Jihad group broke out of a heavily guarded prison in Gaza months before the outbreak of the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel.
The escapees are suspected of having headed back to their hometown of Jenin, in the West Bank, about a 25 kilometer (15-mile) drive away. The internationally recognized PA wields little control in the town, where militants in recent weeks have clashed with Israeli forces. Israeli helicopters were seen flying over Jenin on Monday morning.