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Israel captures two remaining escaped Palestinian prisoners who had been on the lam for two weeks

Capture puts to rest a massive manhunt for the six prisoners who escaped a high-security prison two weeks ago

Escaped Palestinian prisoners Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kahamji after they were rearrested in Jenin on Sept. 19, 2021. (Photo: Israel Security Agency)

With very little resistance, Israeli forces captured and arrested on Sunday the two remaining Palestinian prisoners who escaped from the Israeli Gilboa Prison almost two weeks ago. 

The four other escaped inmates – all of whom were convicted in connection with terrorism against Israelis – were found in northern Israel a week ago. 

The prisoners tunneled out of the maximum-security prison on Sept. 6 and slipped past a guard who was asleep, according to The Associated Press.

While the massive manhunt ended successfully, Israeli officials are only beginning to probe how the inmates succeeded in escaping from a supposedly high-security prison in the first place. 

Iham Kamamji and Munadil Nafiyat, members of the terrorist organization Islamic Jihad, were captured in the West Bank city of Jenin by Israeli security forces. While the city is formally under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, Ramallah’s influence is very limited in Jenin and the city was a perfect hideout for fugitives. During the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, Jenin became a major hub for terrorism against the Jewish state. 

The successful operation during the weekend was jointly carried out by the Israel Defense Forces, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and the Yamam counter-terrorism police elite unit. 

“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 two terrorists were caught alive and were handed over for interrogation by the security forces,” the IDF said in a statement. 

The military operation was not without risks. Due to the Palestinian Authority’s weak control, there is a strong presence of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists in Jenin. Terrorists from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad had earlier warned Israeli authorities that they would defend the fugitives and prevent Israeli security forces from arresting them in the city. 

Responding to the successful capture of the security inmates, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised the Israeli forces. 

“Over and done. All six terrorists were captured and will return to prison in an impressive, sophisticated and rapid operation by the Shin Bet, the police and the IDF,” Bennett said. The prime minister also stressed that there would be a comprehensive investigation of the prison escape so that “what went wrong can be repaired.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz also thanked the Israeli security forces.

“Last night we saw the importance and intelligence superiority of our forces on the ground during an operation to arrest the terrorists who escaped from Gilboa prison. The operation was carried out by the IDF, ISA, and Yamam special forces. I commend all the forces that have worked and continue to work effectively and professionally while having maintained resilience and a ‘fighting spirit’ over the last few weeks,” Gantz said during a ceremony in honor of Israel’s fallen soldiers during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. 

Gantz, who met with the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in August, stressed that the Jewish state did not seek to undermine the daily lives of ordinary Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank. 

"Israel does not want to disrupt the daily routine of millions of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria and strives to continue taking steps that will improve and strengthen their economy, health, and security. In Gaza, too, we strive to enable 2 million civilians to maintain their routine lives,” Gantz said. 

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