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Palestinian prisoners set cells ablaze in protest against 'punitive measures'

Prisoner affairs groups denounce increasing crackdown by prison authorities which come after Gilboa prison break
A Palestinian man shows a poster of the six Palestinians who escaped from an Israeli prison
A Palestinian man in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank shows a poster of the six Palestinians who escaped from an Israeli prison (AFP)
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Ramallah, occupied West Bank

Palestinian prisoners set seven cells on fire in Ketziot Prison in the Negev region of southern Israel on Wednesday in protest against crackdowns carried out by Israeli security forces, according to the Palestine Prisoners' Society (PPS).

The fires were in response to a raid on the prison's Section Six, carried out by special units and Israeli soldiers deployed from a nearby military base, according to the Palestinian Authority (PA) Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs.  

The raids are an attempt to disperse prisoners affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement who are refusing to be transferred from their cells. 

Israeli prison authorities said earlier this week that they were planning to relocate some 400 Islamic Jihad-affiliated inmates to separate them from each other. 

The transfer plans were revealed after six prisoners, including five members of Islamic Jihad, escaped the maximum-security Gilboa prison on Monday. 

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The PA's prisoners' commission said that inmates had announced their refusal to comply with any measure taken by prison authorities, citing "punitive and repressive" measures carried out against them since the prison break. 

Another facility in southern Israel, Rimon Prison, was placed on alert after two cells were set ablaze. 

PPS said army units had been deployed in Rimon Prison to bring the protests under control.

"The Israeli Prison Service pushed every Palestinian detainee to a battle that is heading to a dangerous escalation," Amany Sarahneh, the head of the media department at PPS, told Middle East Eye. 

Sarahneh said that the "punitive measures" imposed by the Israeli Prison Service  (IPS) saw Palestinian detainees banned from leaving their cells and deprived of using facilities such as sinks, kitchens and cafeterias.

Sarahneh added that the IPS had begun to disperse Islamic Jihad-affiliated prisoners, redistributing them among different prisons and transferring a number of them to solitary confinement.

Israeli authorities said they were preparing for further protests in other prisons, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. 

'Collective punishment'

The Gilboa jailbreak has been described as "a major security and intelligence failure" by Israel's police apparatus.

Reports identified the escapees as Zakaria Zubeidi, former commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades; as well as Mahmoud Abduallah Ardah, Mohamed Qassem Ardah, Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadr, Ayham Nayef Kamanji, and Munadil Yaqoub Nfeiat, all members of al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement.

The six men tunnelled out of Gilboa prison after they dug a hole from their cell toilet floor to access passages formed during the prison’s construction, according to Arik Yaacov, the IPS's northern commander.

According to Israeli public radio, the tunnel was dug over the course of several months. 

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Israeli police have carried out an expansive manhunt to locate the escapees, but no progress has yet been announced. Their whereabouts remain unknown. 

Early on Wednesday, Israeli forces raided parts of Jenin, the northern West Bank city from which the escapees hail, arresting residents and confiscating surveillance cameras.  

Several family members of the six men have been arrested, in what the Palestinian Prisoners' Society has described as "collective punishment" and an attempt to pressure the escapees into giving themselves up. 

Prisoners at Gilboa have also been caught up in the crackdown. Early on Wednesday, Malek Hamed, who is serving a double life sentence, is reported to have thrown hot water at an Israeli prison warden in an act of self-defence. 

Laialy Hamed, Malek's sister, told MEE that she was notified of the incident by the Red Cross who said her brother had been placed in solitary confinement.

"We do not have any information about Malek and what happened to him," Laialy said.

"We demand the right of knowing his whereabouts, and we demand his immediate release from solitary confinement. We have grave concerns for what might happen to him as he is singled out."