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Israel arrests four Palestinian fugitives who escaped prison

Israeli police on Saturday said they have arrested four of the six Palestinians who broke out of a maximum-security prison this week — including a famed militant leader whose exploits over the years have made him a well-known figure in Israel.

Zakaria Zubeidi, one of the six Palestinians who escaped from a high-security prison earlier this week, is blindfolded after being recaptured in the Arab town of Umm al-Ghanam, northern Israel. Source: Associated Press

The arrests moved Israel closer to closing 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 defense 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 and was active in a West Bank theater movement before he was re-arrested in 2019 on suspicions of involvement in attacks.

Photos released by police showed Zubeidi, handcuffed and wearing a white head band, being led away by two police officers.

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 fugitives," 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.

A video circulating on social media showed Israeli police shackling one of the prisoners, Yakub Kadari, into the backseat of a police vehicle and asking him for his name.

The man, wearing jeans and a green T-shirt, calmly identifies himself as Kadari and answers "yes" when asked whether he is one of the escapees. Kadari was serving two life sentences for attempted murder and bomb planting.

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

In a statement issued late Saturday, Israel's Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, praised the Israeli security forces for the arrest of the four fugitives, describing the search operation as "determined and persistent."

"We have to maintain heightened readiness and continue until the mission is complete," Bennett said.

In Gaza, Hamas' armed wing pledged to include the six prisoners on the top of any future prisoner swap deal between the militant group and Israel.

"The heroes of the 'freedom tunnel' will come out with heads held high and the Qassam command has decided that there will be no exchange deal without freeing those heroes," said the spokesman, Abu Obaida, using the name of Hamas' military wing.