Six Palestinian prisoners escape Israeli jail through tunnel

Israeli authorities have launched a manhunt after six Palestinian prisoners escaped from one of the country’s most secure jails overnight.

The men are believed to have dug a hole in the floor of their cell at Gilboa prison, then crawled through a cavity and tunnelled beneath the outer wall.

Officials were alerted by farmers who noticed them running through fields.

The fugitives include a former leader of the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade and five Islamic Jihad members.

An Israel Prison Service official described the escape as “a major security and intelligence failure”. Palestinian militant groups hailed it as “heroic”.

The alarm was raised at Gilboa Prison, a high-security facility in northern Israel known as “The Safe”, when authorities received reports from local farmers about “suspicious figures” in nearby agricultural fields.

When prison staff carried out a headcount at 04:00 (01:00 GMT), they found six inmates were missing.

The Palestinians are believed to have made their way out of the cell that they shared by digging a hole in the floor of their bathroom. The Jerusalem Post reported that they had used a rusty spoon that they hid behind a poster.

The hole led to a hollow space underneath the prison that was created during the facility’s construction, when piles were sunk into the ground. An Israeli police commander described it as a “structural flaw”.

The inmates are believed to have moved through the space to reach the prison’s outer wall, then dug a tunnel that emerged in the middle of a dirt road just outside.

The Shin Bet security service said it believed the prisoners had been in contact with people outside the prison using a smuggled mobile phone and that they had been picked up in a car.

The six fugitives include Zakaria Zubeidi, a former commander of the Palestinian militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade in the West Bank city of Jenin, as well as five members of Islamic Jihad.

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