image sourceReutersimage captionIsraeli forces set up roadblocks in Israel and the West Bank to stop the fugitives fleeing into Jordan

Israeli troops searching for six Palestinian militants who escaped from a high-security prison have reportedly detained several of their relatives.

Five members of Mahmoud Ardah, Munadil Infaat and Mohammed Ardah's families were taken into custody overnight, a Palestinian prisoners group said.

The arrests happened in the Jenin area of the occupied West Bank, it added.

The fugitives' hometown is a focus of the manhunt launched on Monday after they tunnelled out of Gilboa prison.

It was the first Palestinian prison break on this scale in two decades and came after what Israeli media called a series of "blunders" by the authorities.

Palestinian militant groups hailed the escape as a "heroic" act.

image sourceEPAimage captionThe tunnel dug by the prisoners emerged in a dirt road outside Gilboa prison's walls

The fugitives are believed to have dug a hole in the floor of their cell over several months. It led to a cavity underneath the prison created when piles were sunk into the ground during its construction.

They are thought to have crawled through the space to reach the prison's outer wall, then dug a tunnel that emerged in the middle of a dirt road, just below a watchtower.

CCTV cameras captured them leaving the tunnel at about 01:30 on Monday. But the alarm was only raised at 04:00, after locals reported seeing "suspicious figures" in fields near the prison.

Israeli media have blamed the jailbreak on a number of security failures.

They included the publication of a blueprint of the prison on the website of the architects involved in its construction; the placing of six prisoners from Jenin in the same cell, including three considered of "high risk of escape"; and the decision to not switch on a jamming device that would have stopped them using smuggled mobile phones to communicate with people outside.

There were also unconfirmed reports that the guard stationed in the watchtower next to the tunnel exit was asleep during the escape.

Five of the fugitives – Mahmoud Ardah, Mohammed Ardah, Iham Kamamji, Yaqoub Qadri and Munadil Infaat – are members of the militant group Islamic Jihad. Four of them are serving life sentences after being convicted of planning or carrying out attacks that killed Israelis.

The sixth fugitive, Zakaria Zubeidi, is a former commander of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade in Jenin. He was arrested by Israeli forces in 2019 on suspicion of involvement in a number of shooting attacks and was standing trial.

Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said on Monday that the escape was a "very serious incident and should not have happened" but that the fugitives would be caught "sooner or later".

image sourceEPAimage captionPalestinians celebrated the escape, with militant groups describing it as a "heroic act"

Army troops and border police swiftly set up roadblocks in Israel and the West Bank to stop them fleeing into Jordan.

On Tuesday, three people were detained in the northern Israeli village of Naura on suspicion of assisting the men, who were reported to have changed clothes and bought food there.

Overnight, Israeli troops detained Munadil Infaat's father in the West Bank town of Yaabad, west of Jenin, as well as four members of the Ardah family in Arraba, to the south, the Palestinian Prisoners' Club said on Wednesday.

Two were brothers of Mahmoud Ardah, the third was a brother of Mohammed Ardah, and the fourth was Dr Nidal Ardah, a physician, it added.

The detention of Dr Ardah, who works for the Palestinian Authority's health ministry, and his relatives was condemned by Health Minister Mai al-Kaila and human rights activists.

The Israeli military told AFP news agency that several arrests had been made, without providing details.

In a separate development on Wednesday, Palestinian inmates set fire to a number of cells in the Ketziot and Ramon prisons in southern Israel. The unrest was reportedly triggered by new restrictions imposed in response to the Gilboa prison break.

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