AMMAN: Israeli security forces unable to find six escaped Palestinian prisoners have arrested six of their relatives instead.
The prisoners tunnelled their way out of the high-security Gilboa jail in northern Israel on Monday, having dug a hole in the floor of their cell with a spoon.
Israel has deployed drones, road checkpoints and an army mission to Jenin, the home town in the occupied West Bank of many of the escaped prisoners, but has failed to track them down.
Instead, on Wednesday security forces arrested two brothers of Mahmoud Ardah, who masterminded the escape, Dr Nidal Ardah, another relative, two brothers of escaped prisoner Mohammad Ardah, and prisoner Munadel Infeiat’s father.
The arrests provoked anger in the West Bank. “Holding someone in order to coerce a relative to do something is a mafia-style tactic,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch.
Sami Shehadeh, a member of the Knesset from the Joint Arab List, told Arab News the reaction from the Israeli security forces was hysterical. “They are carrying out brutal acts of revenge against prisoners and their families. This is collective punishment, which we denounce, and we call for the immediate cessation of these acts against our people.”
Orthodox Bishop Atallah Hanna said arresting relatives of the escaped prisoners was barbaric. “This is an act of collective punishment and an inhuman act,” he said.
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Mohammed Rajoub, a broadcaster at Ajyal Radio in Ramallah, said the Israelis had initially delayed arresting relatives in the hope that they could trace calls with the escaped prisoners. “Now that they have failed to capture the prisoners they want to use their families as bargaining chips,” he said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said every Palestinian prisoner had the right to be free, and called on Israel to release them all.
Wadie Abu Nassar, director of the International Center for Consultations in Haifa, said the arrests were predictable. “Israeli security wants to recapture those escaped prisoners as soon as possible and they feel that the pressure on relatives will help them get valuable information about their possible whereabouts,” he said.
Amjad Shihab, a lecturer at Al Quds University, said the escape was a shock to the Israeli security apparatus.“Therefore politicians ordered oppressive measures against all prisoners, and the families of the escaped prisoners, with hopes that all this will lead to some information to help them out of the political scandal that they find themselves in.”