The IDF retaliated against Hamas targets following rocket attacks on Israel for the third consecutive night, amid rising tensions over the recapture of 4 out of 6 Palestinian prisoners who escaped from the Gilboa maximum security prison last Monday.
By Erin Viner
“Fighter jets attacked a Hamas terrorist post in Khan Yunis,” said the Israel military, adding that other targets included “a heavy machine gun from which gunfire was fired during the military’s attacks” last night, as well as “central training complexes for the terrorist organization, where warehouses for storing and manufacturing weapons and even a terrorist tunnels were located.”
The latest spate of violence erupted Friday shortly after news that 2 of the escaped prisoners had been caught, when Gaza terrorists fired a missile that was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system. Spokesman for the Islamist Hamas group that rules Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, called for Palestinians in the West Bank would “step up the resistance and jihad” against Israel. “The arrest of the heroic prisoners is another round in the open and ongoing battle with the occupation,” he said, stressing, “What happened strengthens the Palestinian people to continue the struggle against the occupation and support of prisoners.”
Hundreds of Palestinians rioted in the West Bank, while demanding that Hamas and other Islamist militias in the Strip retaliate for the arrests by firing rockets at Israel. Ensuing clashes with IDF troops included the firing of weapons and hurling of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the soldiers.
A fragile truce between Hamas and Israel ended the last major conflict, known as Operation Guardian of the Walls, in May during which 13 Israelis and an estimated 250 Palestinians were killed.
Yakub Kadari and Mahmoud Aradeh were the first of the escaped convicts to nabbed in the massive manhunt by Israeli security forces. They were found in the northern town of Arab-majority Nazareth, and neither was said to have resisted arrest.
Aradeh’s elder brother Mohammad, who is believed to be the reported mastermind of the jailbreak, was captured hours later on Saturday; along with was Zakariya Zubeidi, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and high-profile former commander of the Fatah faction’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades during the Second Intifada. The two men were found hiding in a truck parking lot in the northern Israel Arab village of Shibli–Umm al-Ghanam not far from Nazareth.
All of the escapees were sentenced to life terms for murderous attacks on Israelis. Other than Zubeidi, they are members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group.
The intense search for the last 2 Palestinian prisoners Iham Kamamji and Monadal Infiat who remain at large is now focused on the Jezreel Valley and the West Bank. “The estimation is that one has succeeded to get to the West Bank,” Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev told Channel 12, in apparent confirmation of a Haaretz news site report that there is surveillance footage of one suspect crossing through a gap in the security fence near the village of Jalameh in the northern West Bank. “The other one could be on either side,” said Bar-Lev, before expressing confidence that both will be caught.
The vow to find the fugitives was echoed by other top Israeli security officials yesterday. “All forces and means available” will be used to take them into custody, said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “It’s only a matter of time before the defense establishment reaches the other two terrorists,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi underscored, stressing, “We will not stop until they are caught.”
At the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the police, Israel Security Agency (ISA, also known as the Shin Bet), IDF, special units and “all those who worked day and night for a week to put the terrorists back in prison.” He also thanked Public Security Minister Bar-Lev and Defense Minister Gantz, who he said were “completely involved in the matter, as well as “the civilians who showed civic responsibility and general responsibility and reported what was necessary to the police.”
“We are two-thirds of the way there; we have recaptured four of the six terrorists,” said Prime Minister Bennett, underscoring that, “The effort to put the other two back in prison is continuing at these very moments.”
The apprehended prisoners are said to be cooperating during interrogation by the ISA. According to leaked details cited local media, the group of 6 first made their way to the nearby Arab village of Na’ura about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from the Gilboa Prison. Local residents ignored their pleas to be driven to the Palestinian Authority city of Jenin, so the escapees showered and changed into clean clothes at a mosque, then set out on foot again in three sets of pairs. Thereafter, it has been reported that Arab Israelis who spotted the fugitives tipped off Israeli security sources as to their whereabouts.
The recapture of the majority of the prisoners has been a huge blow to Palestinians who celebrated the jailbreak with the distribution of candy in the streets – particularly due to the apparent refusal by the local Arab population to abet their flight. Photographs circulated by Palestinian factions and social media were photoshopped to depict the sullen inmates as smiling rather than scowling.
The Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the arrests “will not weaken the resolve of our prisoners, nor the determination of our great Palestinian people, who are experienced in struggle and confronting the colonial Zionist project for more than a hundred years.” The inmates capture “will only increase the determination of the prisoners and all Palestinians to continue the struggle and resistance against the occupation,” read the statement, further accusing Israel of “war crimes” for allegedly beathing Zubeidi during his arrest while condemning the international community for its “silence.”
Fatah Secretary-General in Jenin Ata Abu Rmaileh said that “the six heroes gave hope to our people and all Arabs and Muslims” through their “defeat (of) the Israeli security system,” and that news of the capture “came as a shock to all the Arabs and Muslims.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964 with the goal of “liberating Palestine” through armed struggle and recognized as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinians, issued a statement insisting that the inmates should be considered “prisoners of war” and denouncing Israel’s presence as an “illegal occupation.” The statement went on to hail the prisoners as “the best Palestinian youth who sacrificed their lives for the sake of their homeland and their people.”
In addition to the inflammatory statements from its spokesman noted above, Hamas is now vowing to secure release of the felons in a future swap with Israel. “These heroes achieved a great victory” and their capture fugitives “does not cancel the magnitude of the security earthquake that shook the Zionist security system,” proclaimed Hamas official Faza Sawafta, adding, “We will meet these heroes sooner or later in an honorable prisoner exchange deal.”
Jenin PIJ leader Bassam al-Sa’di stressed that “The Palestinian people will not abandon the heroic prisoners,” while the The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) lauded the “brave heroes who have become icons of the Palestinian struggle.”
In related developments, Israeli security forces foiled an attempted stabbing by Palestinian terrorist. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the assailant was shot and injured attempting to stab IDF soldiers stationed at Gush Etzion Junction, which is just south of Jerusalem. The suspect, identified as 27-year-old Muhammad Bilu of the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar, was evacuated in moderate-severe condition to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center for care. No other casualties were reported in the incident.
The attack follows another attempted stabbing of an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem on Friday. 50-year-old Palestinian
Dr. Hazem al-Julani was shot dead during the attack, while the 19-year-old officer suffered a mild injury to his leg.
Hamas issued a statement applauding the attack, which occurred on the ‘Day of Rage’ the terror group called on Palestinians to enact against Israel after Friday Muslim prayers.