By Qais Abu Samra
RAMALLAH, Palestine (AA) – Recaptured Palestinian prisoner Mahmoud Al-Arida says he was the mastermind of last week’s jailbreak from the high-security Gilboa prison in northern Israel, his defense lawyer said on Wednesday.
Al-Arida “began digging the tunnel early last December and completed it early this September,” Raslan Mahajna told official Palestine TV.
The defense lawyer met with the former fugitive early Wednesday at the Israeli Jalama investigation center in northern Israel.
Al-Arida “was primarily responsible for planning and implementing this operation”, he said, denying the involvement of any other prisoners in planning the escape.
Six Palestinian inmates tunneled out of Gilboa prison in northern Israel on Sept. 6, but last week Israeli forces managed to recapture four of them. The remaining two are still free.
Reports of abusive mistreatment of the four former fugitives have emerged, including preventing them from meeting their lawyers and family members.
"We (six fugitives) walked with each other until we reached the town of Naoura and entered a mosque there,” Mahajna quoted Al-Arida as saying.
“From there we separated in twos and tried to enter the West Bank, but there were large Israeli reinforcements.”
Al-Arida said he tried his best to avoid Arab towns inside Israel “lest any (Arab) citizen be held accountable” by Israeli authorities if they helped him.
He added: "We were arrested by chance … when a nearby police patrol saw us.”
The lawyer said Al-Arida had been tortured by Israeli interrogators for eight hours a day, without pause.
“But his health is still good,” he said, adding that Al-Arida is “proud” of the jailbreak, which he called a “success.”
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Prisoner Society said plans by prisoners to stage an open-ended hunger strike on Friday were cancelled after Israeli authorities acquiesced to their demands.
Chief among these demands was the abolition of the "collective punishment" imposed by the prison administration following the jailbreak.
There are around 4,850 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, including 41 women, 225 children, and 540 “administrative detainees,” according to observers.
*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara