Six Palestinian prisoners escaped from a high-security Israeli prison on Monday, allegedly using a tunnel dug with a rusty spoon over months, in what is being called the worst prison break in the country’s history.
A massive manhunt has been launched and authorities have mobilised search operations with the help of drones and helicopters while roadblocks have been erected on ground to find the fugitives.
The prisoners escaped in an overnight operation, apparently tunnelling their way out. According to various reports, they used a spoon to dig a tunnel from their prison cell over several months, leading the way out to the main road.
A picture of tunnel entrance purportedly used by the prisoners for the breakout is being widely shared on social media as well as by Israeli media. But police are yet to confirmed it.
The alarm was raised in the prison after authorities received information from local farmers about suspicious people in agriculture fields. A head count was ordered at 4am in the morning and six inmates were found missing.
According to The Jerusalem Post, the prisoners had used a rusty spoon that was kept hidden behind a poster in a cell, in a Hollywood movie The Shawshank Redemption-style prison break.
Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett called it a "grave incident" for which maximum effort is required by Israel’s various security branches. He said he was receiving constant updates.
The incident happened hours before the country was set to mark the celebration of the Jewish New Year.
All six were considered highly dangerous and four of them were on life sentence. But authorities said the escaped prisoners do not pose a threat to the general public.
Israel’s Army Radio, which is operated by Israel Defence Forces, said 400 prisoners are being moved to other locations as a protective measure to avoid further such attempts.
The radio said the prisoners escaped through a tunnel from the Gilboa prison, which is one of the country’s most secure facilities. The men seem to have received some outside help.
“The defence minister… ordered reinforcements to the border crossings and to the area around the frontier, while preparing to conduct whatever actions are needed to catch the terrorists, in close coordination with the Shin Bet security service and other security services,” defence minister Benny Gantz’s office said.
The prisoners are believed to have been headed to Jordan or West Bank town of Jenin, where Palestinians militants regularly clash with Israeli forces.
The Palestinians include a former leader of the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade and other five were members of Islamic Jihad.
Islamic Jihad praised the jailbreak as "heroic" which will cause" severe shock to the Israeli defence system.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called it a "great victory" that shows "that the struggle for freedom with the occupier is continuous and extended, inside prisons and outside to extract this right."
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