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Acre Gaol Attack

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

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asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies if he will make a statement on the attack by terrorists on the gaol at Acre and the escape of prisoners.

At half-past four in the afternoon of 4th May a party of armed Jews, some of whom were wearing British military uniforms, arrived in British military transport in the market place at Acre. Simultaneously with their arrival explosions occurred in the town and firing broke out in various localities. Four main explosions occurred in the vicinity of the old Turkish baths which abut on the prison, and as a result one wall surrounding the exercise ground was breached. This attack took place at the time when the prisoners were at exercise, and numbers of Arab and Jewish prisoners escaped through the breach in the wall. At the same time grenades were thrown by the attackers into the criminal lunatic section of the prison, wounding several inmates, and automatic small arms fire was directed at the prison from various points.

The attackers were engaged by police and troops, both in Acre town itself and in the vicinity. Immediately after the attack military and police patrols were organised, and one of these, a party of paratroops, having been fired on by a number of Jews, returned fire and inflicted five casualties, one of which was fatal. This was a Jew dressed as a captain in the Royal Engineers. Troops also intercepted two vehicles carrying Jews north of the town. After a brief engagement 12 Jews were captured, two of whom were dead and three wounded. One of the dead Jews was dressed in the uniform of a captain in the Royal Army Service Corps. Another dead Jew dressed in British military uniform was found in an Army truck abandoned on the outskirts of the city. After the attack, roads in the vicinity of Acre town were found to be mined. Six soldiers travelling in a military truck were wounded by one of these mines. Other casualties during the attack on police and prison personnel were limited to one officer slightly injured and a British constable seriously wounded in the leg.

In the action immediately following the attack, 14 Jewish prisoners were recaptured, of whom four were dead and six injured: of the Arab prisoners, 12 were recaptured, of whom one was dead and two injured. Extensive operations have continued for the recapture of the escaped prisoners, and further details are still coming in. My latest report on 6th May states that 29 Jews and 214 Arabs were still at liberty. The fullest investigations into the circumstances of this occurrence are being made.

Is not the Minister going to give a better explanation than that, of what is surely a unique occurrence in British Colonial history, when a heavily guarded place like a gaol in a country with a garrison of 100,000 men can apparently be attacked with impunity?

I said in the latter part of my reply that I have called for a full report on the whole incident. I have provided the House with the information which, up to yesterday, had come to hand.

In view of the very deep public concern about this incident, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the results of the inquiry will he made available to the House, and that we shall have an adequate opportunity subsequently for debate?

I certainly will see that the information that comes to hand is available to the House. With regard to the facilities for debate that, of course, is not a matter for me, but for the Leader of the House.

Was the guarding of Acre Gaol the responsibility of the Palestine Police or of the military? What were the orders regarding the arming of the sentries?

I shall have to await further information from the Palestine authorities. I have asked for more information. I have given the information which has come to hand so far.