Israel captures two of six Palestinian jail breakers

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Two of six Palestinian inmates who escaped from a high security prison in Israel this week in one of the most spectacular breakouts in the country's history were captured Friday, Israeli police said.

"Police in the northern zone captured two escaped prisoners a short while ago... in the city of Nazareth," they said in a statement.

They later named the two as Yaqoub Qadri, 48, and Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, 45, both of the Islamic Jihad.

According to local and regional media reports, Ardah was the mastermind behind the escape.

Shortly after the capture was announced, the army said that a rocket had been fired at southern Israel from the Gaza strip, but was intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defence system.

"Police located (the two fugitives) and chased them in a helicopter," the police statement said.

"They offered no resistance when they were arrested in the south of Nazareth."

Israeli media said police were alerted by local residents who reported seeing two men searching litter bins for food.

Israel had launched a manhunt for the six prisoners who made a daring jail break Monday from the high security Gilboa prison through a tunnel dug beneath a sink in a cell.

The Israeli army has sent reinforcements to the occupied West Bank, which it placed under "general closure", with much of the focus centred on Jenin, the home of prominent escapee Zakaria Zubeidi.

Israeli authorities had said the six jail breakers were members of armed Palestinian groups who were being held for plotting or carrying out attacks against Israelis.

Ardah, from Arraba near Jenin, was imprisoned in 1996 for attacks on Israel claimed by Islamic Jihad and was among four to receive a life sentence.

He was held in solitary confinement in 2014 after an escape tunnel was found at Israel's Shata prison, according to his Islamic Jihad biography.

- Formal inquiry -

On Thursday, Israel announced a formal inquiry into lapses that allowed the six to escape.

An Israeli injunction is in effect against publishing details of the jailbreak investigation, even as local media report on the scramble to recover from the embarrassing lapse and prevent any possible attack by the fugitives.

Former prison service commissioner Orit Adato told reporters Thursday that the escape amounted to "a huge crisis" for the IPS, even if such incidents are extremely rare.

Earlier this week, demonstrations were held in several West Bank towns in support of the fugitives.

In Nablus, youths set tyres alight during confrontations with Israeli security forces. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 60 protesters were injured by tear gas near Nablus.

The prisoners' group had reported "tensions" in jails on Wednesday, and a spokeswoman for the Israeli prison authorities told AFP fires had been lit in Ktziot and Ramon jails.

"The situation is now under control, the fires have been extinguished," she said.

When news of the escape first broke on Monday, many people in the Gaza Strip and in Jenin took to the streets to celebrate.