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Palestinian prison break: Gilboa prison director says he was turned into 'scapegoat'

The Israeli official has defended himself amid a government investigation into the escape of six Palestinians from the maximum-security prison in September
An Israeli police officer keeps watch from an observation tower at the Gilboa prison in northern Israel on 6 September 2021 (AFP)

The director of Israel's Gilboa prison has accused the chief of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) of turning him into a scapegoat following the escape of six Palestinian prisoners in September.

On 6 September, six Palestinian political prisoners tunnelled their way out of the maximum-security Gilboa prison in northern Israel, after having dug a hole in their cell with only spoons.

Though they were all re-arrested after a few days, the jailbreak was celebrated by Palestinians and led to Israeli officials to trade blame for loopholes in the prison's structure, which was left unsolved.

Gilboa director Freddy Ben-Shitrit, the highest security official to testify as part of a governmental investigation into the prison break, accused Israeli Prison Service (IPS) commissioner Katy Perry on Wednesday of singling him out for failing to prevent the prisoners' escape.

Ben-Shitrit said that since news broke of the prison break, "the atmosphere was against" him among prison officials.

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"I was targeted by the commissioner of the Prison Service as responsible for the incident and as someone who failed," Ynet quoted Ben Shitrit as saying. "She appealed to the minister of internal security to oust me even before the incident was investigated."

He added that Perry had tried to turn him into "a scapegoat" - "perhaps because of the popular pressure on her and the call for her to resign".

Ben-Shitrit said that Gilboa had been running without a director for almost six months before he took charge, and that he faced budget constraints and had no authority to change padlocks on cells, as it fell under the power of national IPS.

He added that prison guards at Gilboa would use rubber hammers to knock on walls and floors in order to detect possible holes, relying only on their sense of hearing.

"It's quite similar to how to test a watermelon when buying it in the market," he said.

Perry is also expected to give her testimony as part of the government investigation in coming weeks. 

A previous attempt by Palestinian prisoners to escape from Gilboa was foiled in 2014, when prison authorities uncovered a tunnel dug under a toilet cubicle by eight detained members of the Islamic Jihad group.