Israeli police said on Saturday that they arrested four of the six Palestinians who escaped from a maximum security prison this week.
Among them is a famous militant leader whose exploits over the years have made him a well-known figure in Israel.
The arrests brought Israel closer to the conclusion of a shameful episode that exposed deep flaws in its prison system and turned escaped prisoners into Palestinian heroes.
Late on Friday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket at Israel in an apparent sign of solidarity, sparking retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.
The four wanted men were caught in a pair of arrests in northern Israel.
Early Saturday, police said they had captured two men, including Zakaria Zubeidi, hiding in a truck parking lot in the Arab city of Umm al-Ghanam.
The Israeli news site Haaretz, citing an unidentified defense official, said that Zubeidi and his fellow fugitive Mohammed Aradeh had been hiding in the open for some time. The source said the two fugitives did not appear to have received help after their escape and did not have a planned route on where to go.
Zubeidi was a militant leader during the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s.
While he has been linked to attacks on Israelis, he was also known for his frequent interviews with the media and for the friendship he once had with an Israeli woman.
Zubeidi over the years had received amnesty and had taken university courses. He was also active in a theatrical movement in the West Bank before being arrested again in 2019 on suspicions of involvement in attacks.
In a statement, the police said that Israeli security forces, including the army, have been working “around the clock” to catch the fugitives.
“All the forces deployed in full force, searched in open areas, collected every piece of information until they managed to solve the puzzle to locate these two fugitives,” including Zubeidi, police said. The search for the last two prisoners continued.
Previously, two other prisoners were arrested in Nazareth, an Arab city in northern Israel, west of Umm al-Ghanam.
According to Israeli media reports, local residents of both cities had turned over the prisoners.
The six Palestinians were released from Gilboa prison on Monday, unleashing a furious persecution across Israel and the West Bank.
For the Palestinians, the fugitives earned praise for breaking free from multiple life sentences. Fighting Israel and participating in attacks against the Israeli army or even civilians is a source of pride for many, and Palestinians regard the prisoners held by Israel as heroes of their national cause.
In both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, Palestinians had organized sit-ins and joyful gatherings to celebrate the prison break.
Israel said late on Saturday that Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket into Israel that was intercepted by Israeli air defenses.
The Israeli army said it responded with airstrikes on a series of Hamas targets in Gaza.
Israel says it blames Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, for all rocket fire emanating from the territory.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism