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Release terror suspects, Hamas tells Israel

Rockets fired from Gaza Strip after Israeli-sent bomber, helicopter strikes by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | September 13, 2021 at 3:36 a.m.

TEL AVIV -- Aiming to capitalize on the mass euphoria after a Palestinian prisoner escape from an Israeli prison last week, Hamas has said that it will demand the release of the men who have been rearrested, and that, after a weekend of renewed rocket fire exchanges with Israel, it remained committed to fighting.

"An upcoming exchange deal will only take place with the liberation of these heroes," said Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for Hamas' militant arm, al-Qassam Brigades, on Saturday night. "If the heroes of the Freedom Tunnel have liberated themselves this time from underground, we promise them and our free prisoners that they will be liberated soon, God willing, from above ground."

The video statement was released after rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel for the third consecutive night.

Palestinian militants launched a rocket into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Sunday night, the Israeli military said, adding that the rocket was intercepted.

Overnight Saturday, Israeli fighter jets and helicopters struck three Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli army statement said that Israel views the "Hamas terrorist organization as responsible for all terror activity emanating from the Gaza Strip."

The cross-border rocket fire that was spurred by developments in the Israeli manhunt for the Palestinian prisoners threatens to shatter a fragile, four-month-old cease-fire put in place after an 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May. The operation left 13 dead in Israel and more than 250 people dead in the Gaza Strip.

Saturday, Israeli police said they arrested four of the six Palestinian fugitives: two on Friday, near the northern Israeli city of Nazareth, and another two on Saturday, at a truck stop near the Arab town of Umm el-Ghanem; both were tipped off by Arab-Israeli families in the area.

The men were classified as high-profile "security prisoners" for having orchestrated a string of suicide bombings and lethal shootings against Israeli soldiers and civilians during the second intifada, or mass Palestinian uprising.

They include Zakaria Zubeidi, a former child theater actor turned militant leader, who served as the Jenin chief of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant offshoot of the West Bank's Fatah party. He escaped along with five members of Islamic Jihad, the Islamist militant group that is based in Gaza, by digging a tunnel underneath the walls of the Gilboa detention facility in northern Israel, several miles west of Zubeidi's home in the Jenin refugee camp.

As of Sunday, the two other Palestinians remain at large.

Israel's Prison Service called the incident "a major security and intelligence failure." Palestinians hailed it as "heroic."

Over the weekend, photoshopped pictures of the four Palestinian men which made them look as if they were smiling broadly at the time of the arrest, have been circulating widely on social media.

One Palestinian news site, Shehab Agency, tweeted the doctored photos, superimposed on an image of al-Aqsa Mosque, a flash point for Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with the hashtag #freedom--tunnel.

In the past week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the streets in the support of the prisoners, holding up spoons, in reference to the tool that the men reportedly used to dig out of a hole in the shower area and into a dirt road. Riots, with Palestinian inmates setting fire to their cells, have also been breaking out in prisons in Israel. On Friday, as Hamas called for a "day of rage," a Palestinian was fatally shot by Israeli police in Jerusalem's Old City after reportedly attempting to stab the Israeli officers.

Information for this article was contributed by Shira Rubin and Hazem Balousha of The Washington Post and by writers of The Associated Press.

Print Headline: Release terror suspects, Hamas tells Israel

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