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Israel recaptures two more Palestinians who broke out of jail

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By Daniel Bellamy with AP
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Israel recaptures two more Palestinians who broke out of jail
Copyright  Khalil Hamra/Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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Israeli police on Saturday said they have arrested four of the six Palestinians who broke out of a maximum-security prison this week.

They include a famed 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 an embarrassing episode that exposed deep flaws in its prison system and turned the fugitive prisoners into Palestinian heroes.

Late on Friday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into Israel in an apparent sign of solidarity, drawing Israeli airstrikes in reprisal.

The four wanted men were caught in a pair of arrests in northern Israel.

Early on Saturday, police said they had caught two men, including Zakaria Zubeidi, hiding in a truck parking lot in the Arab town of Umm al-Ghanam.

The Israeli Haaretz news site, quoting an unidentified defence official, said Zubeidi and fellow fugitive Mohammed Aradeh had been hiding outdoors for some time. The source said the two escapees appeared to have received no help following their escape and had no 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 also was well known for giving frequent media interviews and for a friendship he once had with an Israeli woman.

Zubeidi over the years had received amnesty and taken college courses. He was also active in a West Bank theatre movement before he was re-arrested in 2019 on suspicions of involvement in attacks.

In a statement, police said that Israeli security forces, including the military, have been working "around the clock'' to catch the fugitives.

"All of the forces were deployed at full strength, searched in open areas, collected every piece of information until they succeeded in solving the puzzle to locate these two fugitivies," including Zubeidi, police said. The search for the final two prisoners was continuing.

Earlier, two other prisoners were arrested in Nazareth, an Arab city in northern Israel just west of Umm al-Ghanam.

According to Israeli media reports, local residents in both towns had turned in the prisoners.

The six Palestinians tunnelled out of the Gilboa prison on Monday, setting off a furious manhunt across Israel and in the West Bank.

For the Palestinians, the fugitives won praise for succeeding in freeing themselves from multiple life sentences. Fighting against Israel and taking part in attacks against the Israeli military or even civilians is a source of pride for many, and Palestinians consider prisoners held by Israel to be heroes of their national cause.

In the Gaza Strip as well as in the West Bank, Palestinians had organised sit-ins and joyful gatherings to celebrate the prison break.

Israel said late on Saturday that Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a rocket toward Israel that was intercepted by Israeli air defences.

The Israeli military said it responded with airstrikes on a series of Hamas targets in Gaza.

Israel says it holds Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, responsible for all rocket fire emanating from the territory.