Israeli police on Monday said they were searching for six Palestinian prisoners who escaped overnight from a high-security facility in northern Israel in an extremely rare breakout.
Police said they have erected roadblocks and are conducting patrols in the area. The men were believed to have been headed for Jenin, where the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority wields little control and where militants in recent weeks have openly clashed with Israeli forces.
The prisoners escaped from the Gilboa prison overnight, which is supposed to be one of Israel's most secure facilities. Israel’s Army Radio said the men escaped through a tunnel and appeared to have received some outside help.
Photos appearing in Israeli media show what was purported to be the end of the escape tunnel, with one image showing an Israeli security man in a black T-shirts inspecting a hole in the ground.
Palestinian militant groups swiftly praised the breakout.
“This is a great heroic act, which will cause a severe shock to the Israeli security system and will constitute a severe blow to the army and the entire system in Israel,” said Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum cast the escape similarly, saying it shows “that the struggle for freedom with the occupier is continuous and extended, inside prisons. and outside to extract this right,”
The army said the prisoners included Zakariye Zubeidi, a former militant leader in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, as well as three Islamic Jihad militants serving life sentences for involvement in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Mr. Zubeidi was a leader in the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, affiliated with the Fatah movement, during the second Palestinian uprising over 20 years ago.