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A general view of Gilboa prison where six Palestinian prisoners managed to escape from the prison overnight on September 6, 2021. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Six Palestinian prisoners — four of whom were serving life sentences — escaped from a high-security Israeli prison through an underground tunnel, launching a massive manhunt in the country just ahead of the Jewish new year.

Driving the news: Five of the six escapees were affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement, and one was Zakaria Zubeidi, a prominent figure with the Fatah organization. Israeli officials said the prison break was a big failure of the prison authorities on the highest levels and are fearful of attacks or copycat prison breaks.

The Islamic Jihad military wing issued a statement welcoming the prison break and called it “a new victory over the occupation”.

  • Hamas also praised the fugitives and said their escape is a humiliation for the Israeli security forces.
  • Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, called it a “grave incident," according to the AP.

Details: On Sunday night around 1:30 a.m. local time the six prisoners escaped through a tunnel that started in a pit under cell number 5 and ended 50 feet away on the other side of the prison walls.

  • Only an hour and a half later first reports from farmers who spotted the suspicious men reached the police and only an hour later the prison guards found out who the prisoners were that were missing.
  • On Monday morning a massive manhunt started in order to locate the fugitives. Israeli officials say the assumption is that the six prisoners have split to three groups each fled in a different direction.

Behind the scenes: Several years ago a group of Islamic Jihad prisoners tried to escape in the exact same way taking advantage of the fact the prison was built on big concrete posts which left open space under the cells. At the time they were caught before using the tunnel.

  • An initial investigation found the current escape took advantage of the same weaknesses in the building, some of which were never fully fixed. The prison intelligence had no information about any break out plans.
  • On Sunday, 24 hours before the escape one of the prisoners, Zakaria Zubeidi — a member of the Fatah organization — asked to switch cells and move to the cell where five Islamic Jihad prisoners were held.
  • The request was unusual but didn’t raise any suspicions. All of the six prisoners were originally from the city of Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank – only 10 miles from the prison.

Go deeper

Oct 21, 2021 - World

Israel to approve new construction in West Bank settlements

Bennett (L) and Biden discussed the settlements issue. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Israel will approve the construction of 4,400 new homes in the West Bank next week: 3,10o in the Jewish settlements and 1,300 in Palestinian villages.

Why it matters: This will be the first time Israel has approved new settlement building since President Biden assumed office, and it's the first time since 2007 that it approves a significant number of new homes for Palestinians in "Area C" of the West Bank, which is controlled by Israel.

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R), chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality, or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.

5 hours ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.

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