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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 18:27 GMT
Massive hunt for Israeli rapist
By Nicky Cardwell
BBC News, Jerusalem

Israel map
Israel has launched the biggest manhunt in its history, with officers fanning out across the centre of the country.

Thousands of police officers were called in to help search for Benny Sela, a serial rapist who escaped from police custody in Tel Aviv on Friday.

The first three days of the hunt have cost an estimated $3.5m (1.84m). Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has called the incident a "fiasco".

The two policemen who were escorting Sela have been suspended from duty.

Despite the Gaza ceasefire, the hunt for Benny Sela is currently the biggest topic of discussion in Tel Aviv.

In the newspapers the story occupies almost as many column inches, and on the streets women are warning each other not to go out alone.

Benny Sela was convicted in 2000 of violently raping 14 women.

He was jailed for 35 years, the longest sentence ever handed out in Israel for rape.

But on Friday Sela escaped from a closed court compound in Tel Aviv, breaking free from two police officers who were escorting to him to a hearing. He then managed to climb over a wall despite being handcuffed.

The court summons for the hearing was later found to be falsified and an investigation is under way to try to find out if he had inside help.

His escape is a particular worry for the police as Sela evaded capture for several years by constantly changing his identity using fake documents and disguises.


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