Six prisoners escaped through this hole in the floor of a jail cell at Gilboa prison, just north of the West Bank. (Israel's Prisons Service)

Prisoners use hidden tunnel to escape from high-security jail in Israel

Tel Aviv: Israel has launched a massive manhunt in the country’s north and the occupied West Bank after six Palestinian prisoners tunnelled out of their cell and escaped from a high-security facility in the biggest prison break of its kind in decades.

The escape on Monday, local time, marks an embarrassing security breach just ahead of the Jewish New Year, when Israelis flock to the north to enjoy beaches, campsites and the Sea of Galilee. The prisoners appear to have gone into hiding and there was no indication Israeli authorities view them as an immediate threat.

Palestinians consider prisoners held by Israel to be heroes of their national cause, and many celebrated the escape on social media. Efforts to capture the escapees will likely draw attention to the Palestinian Authority’s security co-ordination with Israel, which is deeply unpopular among Palestinians. There was no immediate comment from the PA, but President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party praised the escape.

Israeli officials say they have erected roadblocks and are conducting patrols in the area. Israel’s Army Radio said 400 prisoners are being moved as a protective measure against any additional escape attempts. The radio said the prisoners escaped through a tunnel from the Gilboa prison, just north of the West Bank, which is supposed to be one of Israel’s most secure facilities.

A photo released by the prison service showed a narrow hole in the floor of a cell, and Israeli security forces could be seen examining a similar hole on a stretch of gravel just outside the walls of the prison.
Read the article by Laurie Kellman and Joseph Krauss in The Sydney Morning Herald.