Israeli police catch two of six Palestinian jail escapees

·2 min read
Israeli soldiers guard along a fence leading to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as part of search efforts to capture six Palestinian men who had escaped from Gilboa prison earlier this week, in northern Israel

By Rami Ayyub

NAZARETH, Israel (Reuters) -Two Palestinian militants who were among six who broke out of a maximum security Israeli jail this week were caught on Friday on a biblical hilltop in Israel's northern city of Nazareth, police said, drawing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The other four escapees were still at large amid a massive manhunt by Israeli forces across northern Israel, where the Arab city of Nazareth sits, and the occupied West Bank.

The six escapees - five of whom are members of the Islamic Jihad militant group and one with the mainstream Fatah party - broke free https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/six-palestinians-escape-high-security-israeli-prison-israeli-radio-2021-09-06 early on Monday by tunnelling through a hole adjacent to their cell's toilet.

The two men captured on Mount Precipice were Islamic Jihad members, police said. Officers were tipped off by Nazareth residents who the two men had asked for food, Israeli media reported.

Video on social media showed Israeli officers putting two men into the back of separate police vehicles. The two men did not resist arrest, a police spokeswoman said.

Hours after the two men's capture, militants in the Gaza Strip - who fought a deadly conflict with Israel in May - launched a rocket towards Israel which was intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system, the Israeli military said. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

Palestinian factions said there would be repercussions for the two men's capture.

"We hold Israel responsible for the lives of the two liberated prisoners who were arrested," Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab said.

The six escapees have either been convicted or are suspected of planning or carrying out deadly attacks against Israelis. Israel has vowed to capture all of the men, and officials say they will investigate any lapses that allowed their escape.

Palestinians have protested in support of the men across the West Bank in East Jerusalem, seeing them as heroes in their struggle for statehood in territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The facility the men escaped from, about 4 km (2 miles) from the boundary with the occupied West Bank, is one of the highest-security jails in Israel.

The escapees include Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the West Bank city of Jenin who once received Israeli amnesty. Zubeidi was rearrested by Israel in 2019 after his alleged involvement in new shooting attacks.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)

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