Gilboa Prison fugitives sought help from PA prime minister, were rebuffed — TV

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Two of the Palestinian prisoners who escaped from an Israeli jail last month attempted to request sanctuary from the Palestinian Authority leadership but were rebuffed, according to a report Wednesday.

Citing the interrogation of the six recaptured prisoners, Kan news reported that two of the escapees contacted PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh through an intermediary while on the run, and requested protection.

According to the report, Shtayyeh turned the intermediary down, telling him “It’s a complex issue. We don’t want complications and deaths.”

Kan said the two escapees recounted the story separately to interrogators.

The broadcaster also provided further details on the escapees’ accounts of events based on leaked transcripts of their interrogations, following earlier leaks of their comments.

The six split up into three groups of two after fleeing Gilboa Prison, heading in different directions. One of the men, Yaqoub Qadiri, told interrogators that he and another fugitive hid for an entire day just outside a military base in the country’s north. The pair dug a hole beneath some bushes near the base’s fence and camped out there, assuming no one would think to look for them so close to an army post.

A prison guard is seen in a watchtower at Gilboa prison, in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Qadiri claimed that if they had wanted to, they could have harmed an Israeli soldier, Kan reported.

Another recaptured fugitive, Munadil Nafayat, said that upon reaching Jenin, he and his partner saw reports on their escape in the news, alongside claims he said had no connection to reality.

“Journalists reported on things we planned to do when we never planned to do them,” he said, according to Kan. “For example, they said we wanted to cross to Jenin, when we were seeking protective custody from the Palestinian Authority,” which has less control over the northern West Bank city.

The daring September 6 escape, which ended with the capture of the last two inmates some two weeks later, has been seen as a major failure by Israel’s prison service, which was blamed for both allowing inmates to tunnel out through their cell’s drainage system and an empty space underneath the prison, and failing to notice or alert authorities in time.

Police officers and prison guards inspect the scene of a prison escape by six Palestinian prisoners, outside the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Sebastian Scheiner/AP)

Five of the six inmates were members of the Islamic Jihad terror group, along with notorious Fatah terrorist Zakaria Zubeidi. Several had been convicted of capital crimes and were serving life terms. Four of the prisoners were captured in northern Israel within the first week, but two others made their way into the northern West Bank city of Jenin and hid out there until their arrest on September 19.

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

With an indictment filed against the recaptured fugitives and their alleged accomplices earlier this month, the Israel Police and Shin Bet security service announced the end of their investigation into the prison break.

However, a state commission will continue to investigate the escape and the potential failures by the prison staff, the Israel Prisons Service, and other government offices that may have contributed to it.