Jenin Refugee Camp, Occupied West Bank – Israeli forces are arresting relatives of Palestinian prisoners on the run after their brazen escape from a high-security prison in Israel.
Addameer, the Palestinian prisoner support and human rights association, said on Wednesday at least seven family members of the escapees were detained by Israeli soldiers throughout the occupied West Bank, though some were held only briefly.
Al Jazeera visited the Jenin refugee camp where most of the prisoners are from, and where Israeli forces believe they are holed up.
As the taxi approached the home of Zakaria Zubeidi, in the rebellious camp in the northern West Bank, his brother Yahya watched suspiciously and appeared tense before ascertaining the press credentials of several journalists who wanted to interview the family.
Zacharia is one of six high-profile Palestinian prisoners evading Israeli authorities after escaping from Israel’s Gilboa Prison in the early hours of Monday.
Jamal Zubeidi, 65, the uncle of Zakaria, said the family expected Israeli soldiers to invade the Jenin refugee camp at any time.
“They will come to our house and probably arrest us and interrogate us as well as damage the contents of the house,” said Jamal, who has been arrested eight times since 1996.
Mother shot dead
Yahya Zubeidi told Al Jazeera the family home had been destroyed twice by Israeli forces and most of the male family members had been arrested and imprisoned in Israel.
Zakaria’s mother was shot dead by Israeli soldiers on one of the occasions they tried to assassinate him, while he suffered a serious arm injury and shrapnel to his face.
Most of the camp was levelled by the Israeli military in 2002 after several suicide bombers originating there targeted Israelis in deadly suicide attacks.
But it is Zakaria’s escape and his history of fighting against the occupation that makes the family a prime target for Israeli retaliation. His status has reached legendary proportions in the camp.
A former member of the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades he, together with the other five escapees from Islamic Jihad, has continued to elude the hundreds of Israeli security forces scouring West Bank villages and towns, while soldiers are concentrated at, and surveillance cameras monitor, entry points into Israel.
Meanwhile, the family of another escapee was targeted by Israeli security forces.
The family home of Ayham Kamamji, 35, in the village of Kafr Dan, near Jenin, was raided and ransacked by Israeli soldiers at dawn on Tuesday.
The family said Ayham’s father, Fuad Kamamji, was arrested during the raid and taken to an Israeli military camp where he was being interrogated about his son’s whereabouts.
The brother of two other escapees, brothers Muhammad and Mahmoud Ardah, from Arraba near Jenin, was also detained after their family home was raided on Wednesday morning.
Frustrated by their inability to track down the six escapees, the Israeli authorities have already stopped Islamic Jihad prisoners from associating with each other and taken other punitive measures.
But these moves have failed to impress the organisation’s supporters.
At a press conference in Jenin camp on Tuesday night, a group of Islamic Jihad gunmen warned any retaliatory actions against their fighters would elicit a harsh response.
They also warned the injury or death of the escapees would lead to military retaliation.
Even before the recent developments, a military showdown between Israeli forces and gunmen in the camp had been brewing after two previous clashes left a number of armed Palestinians dead, with the Israeli military warning if the PA could not subdue the camp, it would have to do the job itself.