Six Palestinian prisoners broke out of a high-security prison in Northern Israel on Monday, officials have said.
The prisoners escaped from the Gilboa prison, which is supposed to be one of Israel’s most secured facilities, according to Al Jazeera news network.
Such breakouts are extremely rare, the network said of the facility which is about 2 miles from the boundary with the occupied West Bank. “It’s one of the highest-security jails in Israel and houses Palestinians convicted or suspected of anti-Israeli activities, including deadly attacks.”
The men, who likely shared the same prison cell, reportedly escaped through a tunnel and appeared to have received some outside help.
“The tunnel appeared to have been dug from below a toilet in the cell, from which the prisoners crawled their way out of the facility.”
Israeli police and the military forces have started a search, officials said, “And sniffer dogs were deployed and checkpoints set up in the area surrounding Gilboa.”
A police spokesman said security forces believed the fugitives might try to reach the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule; or the Jordanian border some 14 km (9 miles) to the east.
Israeli prison service said “five of the fugitives belong to the Islamic Jihad movement and one is a former commander of an armed group affiliated with the mainstream Fatah party.”
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The Times of Israel said five of the six were serving life sentences in connection with deadly attacks against Israelis, while one was on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.
Meanwhile, several Palestinian factions hailed the jailbreak.
“This great victory proves again that the will and determination of our brave soldiers inside the prisons of the enemy cannot be defeated,” Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamist militant group, Hamas, told Al Jazeera.
Hamas, the group that controls the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, called the escape a “real defeat” for Israel’s security system.
But, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement called the escape “a grave incident” and said he was receiving regular updates about the search.
His office said he spoke with Israel’s internal security minister and “emphasised that this is a grave incident that requires an across-the-board effort by the security forces” to find the escapees.