The forces proceeded to surround the jail compound where Ahmed Saadat and three other members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are imprisoned over the assassination of Zeevi.
Yamam (special police counter-terrorism unit) officers took position on the prison’s roof, while additional security forces blocked the roads leading to the prison. Exchanges of fire ensued, and Saadat and his men were called to surrender. Two Palestinians were killed in the clashes and nine others were wounded. No Israelis were hurt in the ongoing gunfights.
Saadat said from inside the prison that he does not intend to turn himself in.
IDF bulldozers have started to knock down parts of the jail.
A senior IDF officer told Ynet that the terrorists can either surrender or die under the rubble of the jail, which is being knocked down by army bulldozers.
“We are not holding negotiations with those inside the jail. We prefer to capture them alive, but if they don't surrender they will die,” the officer said, adding that some 100 prisoners surrendered so far, but none of them are the ones wanted by the IDF.
Israel’s decision to enter Jericho was taken after the IDF received information that the Palestinian Authority intends on releasing Saadat and his cellmates, who were held there under international supervision.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed the IDF to draw a plan to arrest Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the group behind the assassination, and three other accomplices.
Under an international deal, Israel agreed that Saadat and his accomplices be held in Jericho under American and British surveillance, but following Tuesday's announcement by Akram Rajoub, director of Palestinian Preventive Security in Jericho, that the British and American supervisors had left the prison, the IDF was instructed to act.
PLFP members asked Hamas’ intervention with leader Mahmoud Abbas to release Saadat, who was elected to the Palestinian parliament in the January elections. Abbas said he will not oppose the release of Saadat but warned that Israel may arrest or assassinate him should he be freed.
Jericho prison (Photo: Ata Awisat)
Saadat, who served jail terms in Israel, was appointed as head of the PLFP after the assassination of his predecessor Abu Ali Mustafa, who was assassinated by the IDF in the early days of the intifada.
The PLFP assassinated minister Zeevi in a Jerusalem hotel in 2001 to avenge the death of its leader.
The four wanted men also include Fouad Shoubaki, who was involved in the Katrina A arms ship, which was intercepted by the Israeli navy.
Following the raid the Israel Prison Service decided to raise the alert level in all prisons where Palestinian security prisoners are being held, fearing they may riot and disrupt order.
The IDF said in a statement “Following breaches of agreements and commitments by the Palestinians regarding the arrest of minister Zeevi’s killers and other terrorists in the Jericho prison, and after international factors who were responsible for overseeing the commitments left the city as a result of these breaches, IDF forces are operating under the instruction of the government.”
Efrat Weiss contributed to the report