At least six Palestinian prisoners escaped from a high-security Israeli prison overnight, with regime troops launching a manhunt to arrest them, media reports said on Monday.
Five of them belong to the Palestinian resistance movement Islamic Jihad, hailing from towns near the occupied northern West Bank city of Jenin.
They have been identified as Munadil Nafayat, 26, from Yaabad; Mahmoud and Mohammad al-Arida, both from Arraba; Iham Kahamji, 35, from Kufr Dan; and Yaqoub Qadiri, 49, from Deir al-Basha.
The other prisoner has been identified as Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in Jenin.
The cellmates, serving life sentences, are believed to have fled through an underground tunnel from the Gilbao Prison in northern Israel, which they had managed to dig over the past few months.
The inmates apparently coordinated with aides outside the prison using a smuggled cellphone and had an escape car waiting for them at around 1:30 am.
“Six prisoners escaped by means of an opening that was discovered in their cell,” a statement from the prisons authority said.
Gilbao Prison is one of the highly-fortified detention centers in Israel. An official from the Israel Prison Service described the breach as "a major security and intelligence failure."
“Overnight, we received a number of reports about suspicious figures in agricultural fields and from the prison service, which discovered very quickly that prisoners were missing from their cells and that six escaped,” Israeli police spokesman Eli Levy was quoted as saying by Kan Radio.
He said Israeli forces have launched a massive search and believe they might try to reach the occupied West Bank or the Jordanian border.
Many roadblocks have been set up in the West Bank in a bid to stop the prisoners from escaping into Jordan, and a large contingent of police personnel, Shin Bet sleuths have swung into action.
Reports said the Israel Prison Service was preparing to evacuate the remaining 400 prisoners and disperse them among other prisons in order to probe the escape of Palestinian prisoners.
In a statement released shortly after the incident, the Islamic Jihad called the escape "heroic" and said it will “shock the Israeli defense system.”
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said, “The escape proves the bravery of these prisoners, achieving freedom despite such strict security measures. It's a heroic and impressive action.”
“[This is] a victory for the will and determination of our heroic prisoners, and a real challenge to the Zionist security system, which the occupation boasts as being the best in the world,” he said in a statement.
Celebratory gunfire was reported in Jenin following reports of the prison break by Palestinian inmates.