Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said Sunday that officials believe at least one of the two escaped Palestinian prisoners who remain at large after last week’s jailbreak fled to the West Bank.
“The remaining two are still being searched for and the estimation is that at least one of them is in the West Bank,” Barlev said, adding that he could not go into the operational details that led to that conclusion.
“We are examining the most challenging scenario, which is that they are in two different locations, meaning the manhunt would have to spread over a wide area, even over the Green Line,” Barlev told Radio103FM.
Six prisoners escaped from Gilboa Prison last week in a daring jailbreak, and four were later captured. They all originally hailed from the northern West Bank.
Officials reportedly believe the two remaining fugitives may have split up, and the search is now focused on the area around the northern Israeli town of Yokne’am and the West Bank city of Jenin.
Barlev said that the four fugitives caught over the weekend did not know where the other escapees were located. “Beyond the first stage when they were together, it is clear that the four who were caught do not know where the other two are,” he said.
Questioned over fears the two fugitives could try to carry out an attack following the arrests of their comrades over the weekend, Barlev confirmed that scenario was a source of worry.
“There must always be a concern because people are in a state of despair and their actions are unpredictable. Even in the case of the four who were captured without weapons, the necessary precautions needed to be taken because even though the threat was low, it was there,” he said.
Barlev also said the investigation into the jailbreak was starting to focus on the planning of the escape, and how it was carried out under the nose of the prison service.
“The investigation is focused, among other things, on the early stages [of the jailbreak],” Barlev said. “Obviously this is something that took place over a long period of time and was not just planned in a day or two. It raises additional questions as to how the Israel Prisons Service did not detect any of the signs. The examination committee that I will establish will also examine these issues.”
The escape has exposed a series of failures at the prison, and Barlev said last week that he had decided to form a government commission to probe the incident. Among the apparent lapses were failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.
The two escapees still on the run are Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terror group.
Kamamji was serving a life sentence at the time of Monday’s escape, for killing an 18-year-old Israeli in 2006, a murder he reportedly expressed pride in.
Nafayat has not been charged with a crime other than being a member of Islamic Jihad, and was being held under Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows it to imprison suspects without filing charges.
Israeli security forces believe the Palestinian fugitives received no help while on the run, according to reports on Saturday night.
On Friday night, five days into the national manhunt for the six security prisoners, police captured two of the fugitives in Nazareth. Hours later, two others — including notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi — were apprehended in the nearby town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam. In both cases, Arab Israelis who encountered the fugitives reported them to authorities, aiding in their capture.
After interrogating the four prisoners, police and Shin Bet security service investigators concluded they had no accomplices on the outside, or assistance from within Gilboa Prison, Channel 12 reported on Saturday night. The report said the escaped prisoners may have received minor assistance from passersby, such as offers of rides or clothing, none of which was premeditated.
Police sources told the Ynet news site on Saturday that despite earlier assessments that the prisoners had outside help and that a getaway vehicle had driven them away, authorities now believe they acted alone and traveled on foot the entire time. The six men apparently first walked together to the Arab town of Na’ura and split up from there, according to Channel 12.
Investigators believe that while the men plotted their escape from the prison meticulously, they had relatively few clear plans upon getting out.
The four captured men were brought to a Northern District Court in Nazareth on Saturday night for a first hearing. Prosecutors accused them of having planned to conduct a major terror attack following their escape, a crime with a possible sentence of 15 additional years in prison.
The captured fugitives will likely be kept in solitary confinement following their capture. Their detention was extended by nine days.
The escape and subsequent arrests have stirred up tensions in the region. There were a number of violent protests in the West Bank, and rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, leading to retaliatory airstrikes by the IDF.
Judah Ari Gross, Aaron Boxerman, Emanuel Fabian and agencies contributed to this report.