(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel Police were searching Sunday night for a Palestinian prisoner that escaped from the Petah Tikva Magistrates courthouse earlier in the day.
Police said the 17-year-old detainee from Kalkilya was being held for possession of falsified documents and illegally entering the country.
A preliminary investigation revealed that police officers were escorting the youth from a remand extension hearing when he made a run for it. Despite his hand and leg restraints, police said the prisoner managed to jump a perimeter fence and dive into a waiting vehicle before the officers could respond.
Courthouse security personnel witnessed the escape and fired a number of rounds at the vehicle as it sped away, apparently striking the car at least once. The security guards told police they opened fire when the car attempted to run them down.
A large force of Petah Tikva police and detectives converged on the scene and erected temporary roadblocks in the vicinity of the courthouse, witnesses said. Police helicopters were scrambled, and police mobile units patrolled the surrounding neighborhoods and industrial parks.
Police later found the vehicle used in the escape, but the prisoner and his accomplice were nowhere to be found and were still at large at press time.
The latest escape is as shocking as it is embarrassing for the Israel Police, following a similar incident two months ago. On November 24, convicted serial rapist Benny Sela broke free from two police officers who were escorting him to a hearing. Sela, too, managed to climb over a wall despite being handcuffed, and his escape launched the largest manhunt in the nation's history.
In the days following the escape, Interior Security Minister Avi Dichter appointed Gen. (res.) Amos Yaron, the former director-general of the Defense Ministry, to head an external commission of inquiry into errors that led up to the escape. That probe is ongoing. Sela was eventually captured near Nahariya two weeks after his escape.
Dichter had previously decided that the responsibility for taking prisoners to and from court should be transferred from the police to the Israel Prisons Service (IPS), a decision to be implemented by the end of 2007. He said the police generally used its least experienced men for transporting prisoners, whereas the IPS assigned its best men to this task, and therefore should be responsible for prisoner transfers.