PA official urges escapees to return

12 Aksa Brigades prisoners pardoned by Israel flee following complaints wardens beat them with clubs.

fatah gunmen 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
fatah gunmen 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A senior Palestinian official urged a dozen Palestinian gunmen on Saturday to return to a local lockup, where they had been serving time as part of an amnesty deal with Israel. The gunmen fled the Palestinian-run Jneid Prison in the West Bank city of Nablus on Friday, after complaining that they had been beaten by guards. The governor of the Nablus district, Jamal Muhaisen, appealed to the fugitives over a local radio station Saturday to return to prison voluntarily, citing concern for their safety. Under the amnesty deal, hundreds of Palestinian gunmen have been removed from Israel's wanted list, provided they renounce violence and serve a transition period in Palestinian lockups. Last month, a Nablus gunman who left prison for a day, in violation of the agreement, was shot dead by IDF undercover troops. In an interview with a local Nablus radio station, Muhaisen said the 12 would be safer if they returned to the lockup. Muhaisen ended the conversation when the leader of the fugitives, Mahdi Abu Ghazaleh, came on the line. The governor said he didn't want to negotiate through a radio broadcast. Israel has not commented on the breakout. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has pledged to rein in terrorists and stop violence, as part of his commitment to the US-backed "road map" peace plan. The fugitives, held at Jneid Prison since January, complained that they were beaten with clubs by guards following a fight among detainees. They are from the Al Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, a violent offshoot of Fatah. Members of the group had previously escaped the prison, staying away for 35 days, but then turned themselves in again. Abu Ghazaleh told the local radio station that this time would be different. "We won't return," he said. It was not immediately clear what specifically the men were wanted for, except for exchanges of fire with IDF troops during raids on Nablus. Palestinian police would not comment on the breakout. Israel has cut back slightly on West Bank arrest raids in recent months, as part of a demand by Abbas in the peace talks. In an effort to strengthen Abbas-allied forces in his rivalry with Hamas, Israel allowed the deployment of hundreds of Palestinian police in Nablus in November. Nablus, a city of 170,000, has long been considered a stronghold for gunmen launching attacks on Israel. The police deployment was considered a test case for attempts to have other Palestinian forces stationed around the West Bank. Nablus is also a center of support for Hamas, whose takeover of the Gaza Strip in June last year raised questions about the ability of Abbas to control the West Bank, which remained under his control.