Security forces continued to search on Saturday for the last two escaped Palestinian prisoners who remained on the run, after the capture of four inmates who broke out of prison earlier this week.
According to various media reports, authorities believe one of the remaining fugitives may have fled to the northern West Bank, where all six of the prisoners hail from.
The two escapees still on the run are Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat.
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 the Islamic Jihad, and was being held under Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows it to imprison suspects without filing charges.
Security officials were increasingly concerned that Kamamji or Nafiyat could try to carry out an attack following the arrests of the other fugitives over the weekend.
“They have nothing to lose,” an unnamed senior official was quoted saying by the Walla news site.
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Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai echoed those concerns while visiting a joint command center set up to help coordinate the search efforts on Saturday.
“We must maintain alertness… these are people in a situation of despair and are liable to do extreme things,” he said.
Shabtai also called to hold off on celebrating the arrests until the remaining fugitives are caught.
“We’re just getting started and we can celebrate in the end, after we have the sixth [prisoner],” Shabtai said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian media reports said that Israeli forces conducted searches in the town of Zububa, northwest of Jenin, adjacent to the border fence between the West Bank and Israel.
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There were no immediate reports of anyone detained in the Palestinian town.
On Friday night, searches were also reportedly conducted in Muqeible, an
Arab Israeli town adjacent to the northern West Bank border.
Four of the six escapees, including notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi, were caught by security forces on Friday night and early Saturday morning.
Yaqoub Qadiri and Mahmoud al-Arida, the latter reported to be the mastermind of the jailbreak, were arrested in the northern town of Nazareth on Friday night.
Al-Arida, considered a senior Islamic Jihad member, was jailed for life for terrorist activity, including attacks in which soldiers were killed. Qadiri, also an Islamic Jihad member, was also serving life terms for acts of terrorism including the murder of an Israeli in 2004. Both men were reportedly involved in a 2014 attempt to break out of Gilboa.
Zubeidi and Mohammed al-Arida, the younger brother of the reported mastermind of the jailbreak, were recaptured by Israeli counter-terror police officers near the northern town of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam at around 5 a.m. on Saturday.
Zubeidi, a notorious commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder.
The younger al-Arida, also an Islamic Jihad member was arrested in 2002 on terror offenses and sentenced to life in prison.
For Palestinians, the fugitives have been widely regarded as “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences.
Violent protests broke out at a number of locations in the West Bank after the announcement of the first two arrests on Friday evening.
Israel Defense Forces geared up for further protests on Saturday, after Palestinian groups in the West Bank called for mass protests in solidarity with the re-arrested prisoners.
The six escaped from Gilboa Prison in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison.
Israeli forces have scrambled to find the inmates, all of them highly dangerous. In recent days, Israeli troops have arrested several of the fugitives’ family members, including five who were arrested in villages near the northern West Bank city of Jenin in the predawn hours of Friday morning, according to Palestinian media.
The escape exposed a series of failures at the prison, and Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said on Thursday 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.
Aaron Boxerman and agencies contributed to this report.