The escape of six high security Palestinian prisoners from an Israeli prison took place amid a parade of farcical errors that included the reported availability of prison blueprints online and a sleeping guard in a watchtower.
As hundreds of Israeli troops scoured villages and the countryside for the escapees from Gilboa prison, including five members of Islamic Jihad and a high-profile figure from Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, reports in the Israeli media detailed a series of bungles by the country’s prison authority that allowed the rare jailbreak.
Among the lapses described were the fact that the most prominent figure among those who escaped, Zakaria Zubeidi – who was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder – had requested a transfer into the cell where the five other prisoners were located the day before the escape, without raising any alarms.
Questions also emerged over the lack of any warning over the escape, which had been planned for months as the prisoners dug out an opening in the floor with a rusty spoon, or the fact that the cells at Gilboa prison were built on columns allowing the prisoners relatively easy access to a crawl space beneath their cell.
Perhaps even more extraordinary have been the claims that the blueprints for the prison’s flawed design were available online posted by the architectural firm that designed the high security facility.
Other Hebrew language media reported that the hole beyond the prison’s fence where the six prisoners eventually emerged was situated directly below a watchtower but that the guard on duty was asleep.
Finally, a new system at the prison, designed to block the use of smuggled cell phones to communicate with the outside world, had never been turned on amid claims by prison authorities that the escape was heavily coordinated with the assistance of those outside who provided a change of clothes and getaway car.
With a massive hunt still under way, including dozens of checkpoints, speculation was mounting that the men may have crossed into Jordan.
While the escape was celebrated in the occupied Palestinian Territories and prompted memes on social media, Israeli officials have warned that the escaped prisoners are highly dangerous.
The escape during the Jewish New Year has caused political embarrassment for Israeli authorities.