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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

Sep 13, 2021 - World

Leaders of Egypt and Israel hold rare public meeting

Bennett (L) with Sisi. Photo: Israeli govenrment press office

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett became the first Israeli prime minister in 11 years to pay an official visit to an Egyptian president on Monday, meeting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the coastal resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Why it matters: This was an effort by Sisi to establish good relations with the new Israeli government, and the Egyptians made every effort to give Bennett an unusually warm and public welcome.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
40 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China vows end to building coal-fired power plants abroad

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Mary Altaffer - Pool/Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday that his country "will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad" and plans to boost support for clean energy in developing nations.

Why it matters: The pledge, if maintained, would mark a breakthrough in efforts to transition global power away from the most carbon-emitting fuel.

House Democrats strip Iron Dome money from government funding bill

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Democrats on Tuesday stripped $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome defense system from its short-term government funding bill after backlash from progressives, people familiar with the decision tell Axios.

Why it matters: There has never a situation where military aid for Israel was held up because of objections from members of Congress. While the funding will get a vote in its current defense bill, the clash underscores the deep divisions within the Democratic party over Israel.

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