SIX prisoners dug an escape tunnel with a rusty spoon to flee one of Israel’s most secure jails, according to reports.
The crafty inmates outwitted their captors at the tough Gilboa prison, just north of the West Bank, in a Shawshank Redemption-style break out.
The Jerusalem Post reported the six Palestinians used a rusty spoon which had been carefully hidden behind a poster.
Prison authorities first heard about the escape at 3am on Monday, when local farmers called them about “suspicious figures” seen lurking in nearby agricultural fields.
The massive manhunt for the group – which includes a prominent ex-militant – kicked off when security stumbled on the tunnel dug beneath a toilet sink.
A deep hole in the cell floor enabled the prisoners to crawl their way through the tunnel, to emerge on a road lining the other side of the outer jail wall.
Security officials are scrambling to capture the escapees, all of whom were accused of planning or carrying out attacks on Israelis.
The search includes aerial surveillance vehicles, sniffer dogs, roadblocks and checkpoints.
Footage released by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has reminded commentators of the iconic 1994 prison escape film The Shawshank Redemption.
News agencies have likened the breakout to a Hollywood-style escape.
The video showed agents inspecting a narrow tunnel beneath a sink and another showing a hole outside the prison walls on a stretch of gravel.
Information about their escape prompted some Palestinians to fire guns into the air to celebrate in Jenin Governorate.
Among the fleeing group is Zakaria Zubeidi, 46, who was a prominent leader in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed group affiliated with Fatah during the second intifada from 2000-2005.
He was later granted amnesty along with other Fatah-affiliated militants, but was arrested again in 2019 on what Israeli authorities said were new terror suspicions.
The other five prisoners were members of Islamic Jihad, four of whom were serving life sentences, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club.
They are aged from 26 to 49-years-old.
Hundreds of Islamic Jihad supporters rallied in Gaza, and the militant group sent incendiary balloons across the frontier into Israel in support of the escaped prisoners.
“This is a great heroic act, which will cause a severe shock to the Israeli security system,” said Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad.
Reports say the escapees are heading back to their hometown of Jenin, in the occupied West Bank, about a 15 miles drive away.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev is adamant that extensive planning went into the escape and that the prisoners had outside help.
Palestinian lags are believed to use smuggled cellphones to communicate with people outside, and the escapees may have arranged for a getaway vehicle.
It appeared to be the biggest Palestinian escape from an Israeli prison since 1987.
That was when six militants from the Islamic Jihad group broke out of a heavily guarded prison in Gaza months before the outbreak of the first intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett slammed it as a grave breakout that required maximum effort by Israel’s various security branches to track down the absconders.
An Israel Prison Service official described the escape as “a major security and intelligence failure”.
There is no indication Israeli authorities view the fugitives as an immediate threat.
But officials said they have erected roadblocks and are conducting patrols in the area.
Israel’s Army Radio added that 400 prisoners have been moved as a protective measure against any additional escape attempts from other inmates.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party praised the escape, with an official Twitter account sharing a picture of Zubeidi and hailing what it called the “freedom tunnel”.