Israeli troops have arrested at least six family members in the occupied West Bank of the Palestinians who escaped from a high-security jail this week, a Palestinian prisoners’ group said Wednesday.
The six Palestinians fled Monday through a hole dug under a sink in a Gilboa prison cell in northern Israel.
Israel has deployed drones, road checkpoints and an army mission to Jenin, the West Bank hometown of many of the men locked up for their roles in attacks on the Jewish state.
The Palestinian Prisoners’ Club said two brothers of Mahmud Ardah, described in local media as the mastermind of the escape, have been arrested.
The army has also taken into custody four other people – fellow family member Dr Nidal Ardah, along with two brothers of a second fugitive and the father of Munadel Infeiat, another escapee.
All three of these escapees are members of the Islamic Jihad armed group.
Amani Sarahneh, a spokesman for the prisoners’ group, told AFP that others could also have been arrested, while some had been only briefly detained.
Asked by AFP, the Israeli army – which has occupied the West Bank since 1967 – said “several arrests were made overnight”, without elaborating.
An Israeli injunction is in effect against publishing details of the investigation, even as local media report on the scramble to recover from the embarrassing lapse and prevent any possible attack by the fugitives.
“Holding someone in order to coerce a relative to do something is a mafia-style tactic,” tweeted Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, on Wednesday.
Many people in the Gaza Strip and in Jenin, the northern West Bank city from which some of the fugitives originate, took to the streets on Monday to celebrate the escape of the six.