A watchtower overlooking the escape tunnel through which six security prisoners managed to break out of the high-level Gilboa Prison in northern Israel was unmanned at the time of the jailbreak, Ynet has learned on Thursday.
It remains unclear at this point whether the watchtower was unmanned due to tactical security arrangements, budgetary restrictions, or any other reason.
One of the facility's surveillance cameras was directed at the tunnel but none of the guards spotted the fugitives.
A guard who was manning an adjacent watchtower admitted she fell asleep at the time of the escape.
The six fugitives were believed to have tunneled out of the Gilboa Prison, located near the Sea of Galilee and close to the northern West Bank border city of Jenin.
According to a preliminary investigation, the Prison Service said that they are believed to have escaped overnight Monday between 3:30am and 4am, but police logs showed civilians driving nearby the prison have called in to report suspicious masked characters outside the prison hours earlier.
One of the fugitives is Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of the mainstream Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, who was convicted in several deadly attacks and was serving a life sentence at the facility.
The other five were members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group who are also from Jenin and were also serving life sentences there for a series of deadly attacks against Israelis.
The shocking jailbreak prompted Israeli authorities to launch a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the West Bank after Israel's biggest prison escape in decades.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev vowed on Thursday to capture the six and deal with any blunders that could have led to the breakout as the nationwide manhunt entered its fourth day.
"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," Barlev said.
Commander of Hermon Prison Commissioner Yariv Cohen told Ynet on Thursday it was still "unclear" whether the breakout was a result of systemic negligence and called to wait for conclusions of the incident's investigation.
Meanwhile, Israel Police announced it has assigned its Unit of International Crime Investigations to take over the case to investigate whether any of the prison guards aided the fugitives in their escape.
On Wednesday evening, riots broke out in solidarity with the prisoners in several Palestinian communities as Palestinian crowds 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.
Roi Rubinstein and Elior Levy contributed to this story.