Last two escapees from Gilboa Prison caught in Jenin

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the “sophisticated” joint operation of the IDF, Shin Bet and police.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In a closely coordinated operation, IDF special forces, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet caught the last two escapees from Gilboa Prison Saturday night in Jenin, along with two Palestinians who aided them.

“The arrest was carried out following precise intelligence that the Shin Bet received and pointed out the building in which the two were hiding in Jenin,” the Shin Bet said in a statement. Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kahamji were then immediately handed over to the security services for interrogation, the statement added.

The IDF said that “the forces sealed off and surrounded the house, including gunfire around the building in which the fugitive terrorists were hiding. They came out unarmed and without resistance.”

After the arrest, Palestinians clashed with soldiers in various areas of the city, throwing explosives and shooting at the troops, none of whom were hurt in the incidents. Three Palestinians were reportedly moderately injured.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked all who had “worked night and day, including Sabbaths and the [High] holidays” in the manhunt since the breakout of the six terrorists from the high security prison almost two weeks ago. The other four men had been captured last Saturday night, one pair in Nazareth and one pair in the village of Umm el-Ghanam at the foot of Mount Tabor.

“That’s it,” he tweeted. “All six terrorists were caught and will return to jail, in an impressive, sophisticated and quick operation by the Shin Bet, police and IDF.”

According to Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, the effort had been a massive one.

Ever since the escape, there had been “a wide deployment of thousands of police, Border Police and volunteers, in an intelligence, investigative and operational hunt,” he said. “And thanks to exceptional cooperation between all organizations, the police, the Shin Bet and the IDF, we managed to close the circle together.”

Shabtai said that the searchers already knew that the fugitives were definitely in Jenin on Wednesday. They had waited in order to find out their exact location and then gather all the necessary intelligence on the hideout before moving in.

The arrest operation was then planned by the highest possible echelons, according to a Ynet report, among them the chief of staff and the heads of the Shin Bet and Military Intelligence. This included various feints by the IDF, with troops simultaneously entering different parts of the city to throw off the Palestinian terrorists who had said earlier in the weekend that they were prepared to stop an IDF “invasion.” Palestinian sources said that several factions, including Hamas, Fatah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad had formed a “Joint Operations Room” for this purpose.

Internal Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, who is in charge of the police and prison system, added his congratulations on the successful end to the manhunt, but said that the investigation into the jailbreak would continue.

“I’m proud of the skill of the forces that led to their locating and catching the six terrorist fugitives,” he said. “The mission is not yet over, however. We have to ensure that such an incident never happens again. In the coming days, therefore, I will ask that the government approve the establishment of a state commission of inquiry and I will instruct it to examine the chain of events that led to the escape, [and make] conclusions and recommendations regarding all aspects of the incident, both on the individual and systemic levels.”

Many oversights have already been revealed regarding the working of the prison, including the failure to preventatively fill in known gaps under the cells with cement, the loose inspections that allowed a tunnel to be dug over many months without discovery, and the fact that one watchtower near the tunnel opening beyond the prison wall was completely unmanned while in another the single guard was asleep. The guard who oversaw the monitors that showed the area of the hole was also allegedly watching television during the crucial minutes of the escape.