October 24, 2021

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Israeli forces nab last 2 Palestinian fugitives in Jenin, ending jailbreak saga – The Times of Israel

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Israeli security forces overnight Saturday arrested the two remaining Palestinian security inmates who escaped from Gilboa Prison in northern Israel nearly two weeks ago, the army said.

The arrests of the two fugitives — a week after the four other escaped prisoners were recaptured in northern Israel — brings to a close a massive 13-day manhunt following one of the worst jailbreaks in Israel’s history.

Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, both members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, were apprehended in the West Bank city of Jenin, the Israel Defense Forces said early Sunday.

“The two terrorists were caught alive and were handed over for interrogation by the security forces,” the military said. They were captured following a joint operation by the IDF, Shin Bet security service, and the Yamam counter-terrorism police unit.

Rioting broke out following the predawn arrest raid by Israeli special forces, according to the IDF. There were no reports of Israeli or Palestinian casualties.

“As forces were leaving the city, riots broke out in a number of locations, during which rioters threw stones and explosives at the troops and gunmen opened fire in the area,” the military said.

However, the threats made by Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror groups to forcefully prevent the capture of the two fugitives by Israeli forces did not bear out.

The two fugitives did not resist arrest, handing themselves over after Israeli troops encircled the building where they were hiding.

“The Yamam, Shin Bet and the Haruv Reconnaissance Unit entered the city of Jenin, 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,” the IDF said.

In an apparent effort to avoid a major, direct confrontation with Palestinian terrorists in the city, Israeli forces initially drew attention away from the home where Kamamji and Nafiyat were hiding by dispatching large numbers of troops to a different part of the city as a distraction and only then sending a smaller team to the actual location.

“The two terrorists surrendered and came out without opening fire. The arrest was conducted smoothly,” said Lt. Col. Alon Hanoni, deputy commander of the IDF’s Menashe Regional Command, which is responsible for the Jenin area.

Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he would surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”

Two alleged accomplices, reportedly Jenin residents, were also arrested in the raid. The Shin Bet security service said it was questioning both the fugitives and the accomplices.

Originally from Kafr Dan, near Jenin, Kamamji was arrested in 2006 and jailed for life for the kidnap and murder of a young Israeli, Eliahu Asheri. He has reportedly expressed pride in the murder. Nafayat has not been charged with a crime other than being a member of Islamic Jihad, and was being held under Israel’s practice of administrative detention, which allows it to imprison suspects without filing charges. Security officials had feared they could attempt to carry out a terror attack while on the run.

“As time passed, we knew they were in Jenin,” Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said early Sunday. “We prepared for several days for a complex mission and tonight, after receiving the information we had been waiting for, the signal was given to start the operation, with Yamam forces at the forefront.”

The arrest was made possible by “precise intelligence that was received by the Shin Bet, which identified the building in which the two were hiding in Jenin,” the internal security service said.

The operation was overseen by Brig. Gen. Yaniv Alaluf, the head of the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division, which is responsible for the West Bank, and by Col. Arik Moyal, the military said.

Six Palestinian prisoners escaped from Gilboa Prison in the predawn hours of September 6, making their way out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison. They had reportedly begun digging in November, using plates and pan handles.

In this photo provided by Israel Police, Zakaria Zubeidi, left, and Mohammed al-Arida, two of six Palestinian security Prisoners who broke out of Gilboa Prison, are blindfolded and handcuffed after being recaptured in the Arab town of Umm al-Ghanam, northern Israel, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Israeli Police via AP)

The escape exposed a series of failures at the prison. Among the apparent lapses were failure to learn lessons from previous escape attempts and several operational blunders, including unmanned watchtowers and sleeping guards.

Four of the six escapees, including notorious terror commander Zakaria Zubeidi, were caught by security forces last weekend. Yaqoub Qadiri and Mahmoud al-Arida, the latter reported to be the mastermind of the jailbreak, were arrested in the northern town of Nazareth.

In this Monday, Sept. 6, 2021 file photo, police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape by six Palestinian prisoners, outside the Gilboa prison in Northern Israel. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

Al-Arida, considered a senior Islamic Jihad member, was jailed for life for terrorist activity, including attacks in which soldiers were killed. Qadiri, also an Islamic Jihad member, was also serving life terms for acts of terrorism including the murder of an Israeli in 2004.  Both men were reportedly involved in a 2014 attempt to break out of Gilboa.

Zubeidi, a commander in Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terror group, was in prison while on trial for two dozen crimes, including attempted murder. The younger al-Arida, also an Islamic Jihad member, was arrested in 2002 on terror offenses and sentenced to life in prison.

Israeli security forces arrest the remaining two Palestinian fugitives in Jenin, West Bank, on September 19, 2021 (screen capture: Twitter)

Among the Palestinians, the fugitives have been widely regarded as “heroes” who succeeded in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. The jailbreak was followed by heightened tensions in the West Bank, a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, several other attack attempts, and sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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