Fourteen Fatah terrorists, including a commander, reneged Thursday on their agreement to serve a jail term as part of a deal with Palestinian Authority government officials, and escaped from their prison in Shechem.
Israeli defense officials have warned the PA that if they do not re-arrest the terrorists within 24 hours, the IDF will hunt them down. They escaped with help from police officers who were responsible for guarding the prison complex, according to Voice of Israel government radio.
One of the escapees is Mahdi Abu Ghazale, the commander of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades "Night Horsemen" cell. All of the terrorists are members of Fatah's Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades group.
The terrorists, wanted by Israel for various terrorist activities, originally turned themselves over to the PA in anticipation of a large IDF counter-terrorist operation in Shechem. They began their jail term several weeks ago, after agreeing to be arrested by the PA.
The deal was part of a supposed plan by the PA government to fight terrorism in Shechem by jailing wanted terrorists for three months, then releasing them and recruiting them to join the PA security force. The prisoners, however, apparently had second thoughts, said the deal is off and now refuse to return to jail.
U.S. officials, who trained and equipped the new PA police force, have been counting on the officers to prove the PA is able to control terrorism emanating from its territories, a fundamental requirement of the U.S. Roadmap peace plan.