Israel's police minister vowed Thursday to capture six prisoners who escaped earlier this week from a high-security prison in northern Israel and deal with any blunders that could have led to the breakout as the nationwide manhunt for the fugitives entered its fourth day.
The shocking prison break on Monday caused Israeli authorities to launch a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the West Bank after the 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.
"We will get our hands on the fleeing terrorists, we will correct the failures that might have led to the escape - and if we find professional negligence, we will take care of that as well," said Public Security Minister Omer Barlev.
Police, in the meantime, announced that from now on the investigation into the incident will be conducted by Lahav 433's Unit of International Crime Investigations, with prison guards to give testimony over worries the six fugitives might have been aided by some of the prison's personnel.
Meanwhile, riots broke out on Wednesday evening in solidarity with the prisoners in several Palestinian communities, with crowds of youths clashing with Israeli soldiers.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said that 60 people were injured by tear gas during violent protests in the Nablus area in the West Bank.
Shots were also fired at Israeli forces in Ramallah, but no one was reported injured.
Palestinian protesters clashed with security forces at Damascus gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem. An Israeli Egged bus was also pelted with stones by protestors in the capital.
In addition, fires also broke out at several Israeli prisons on Wednesday in protest of the manhunt.
The blazes were started by Palestinian Islamic Jihad prisoners at the southern prisons Ktzi'ot and Ramon amid efforts to try to move inmates as a precautionary measure since five out of six escapees appear to belong to the terror group.
An umbrella group representing prisoners from all Palestinian factions called on inmates to resist being relocated to other facilities and to start fires in their cells if guards try to move them by force. The prisoners group also threatened a widespread hunger strike.
Meanwhile, checkpoint closures connecting Israel and the West Bank were expected to extend into the weekend.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the premier met in the evening with the heads of Israel’s security services in a joint effort to be ready for “any scenario.”
The most well-known among the escapees is Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, who was a prominent leader in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed group affiliated with Fatah, during the second intifada from 2000-2005. He was later granted amnesty along with other Fatah-affiliated militants, but was arrested again in 2019 on what Israeli authorities said were new terror suspicions.
The other five prisoners were members of the Islamic Jihad militant group, and the prisoners’ group said four were serving life sentences.