HEBRON: The Palestinian Authority is increasingly concerned about the proliferation of smuggled weapons in the West Bank that is apparently fueling conflict between families and various groupings.
Israel’s arms dealers are seemingly contributing to this menace and the situation is becoming a new challenge to the authority, which is already grappling with a deep financial crisis.
There are fears that some Palestinian groups will use these arms to destabilize the authority and attempt to control the West Bank.
Palestine’s police spokesman Col. Louay Erzeigat has said in a previous press statement that the security forces seize between 600 and 1,000 weapons annually in the West Bank.
Hardly a day passes without weapons being used in various Palestinian cities in the West Bank either in conflicts between various groups, during Israeli raids, and at military checkpoints.
Armed individuals are now increasingly being seen at the funerals of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, which have become almost a daily occurrence since the beginning of this year, especially in the northern West Bank.
Although Israel has been confiscating weapons during their daily incursions into Palestinian areas, this has not succeeded in stemming the flow of guns.
Palestinians have accused Israeli arms dealers on more than one occasion of fueling conflict between families in areas such as Hebron in the southern West Bank.
The Israeli website “Walla” said in a report that security officials were aware that there were tens of thousands of weapons in Israel that had been stored over the years to be used for various activities.
According to the report, there has also been an increase in arms smuggling to Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, with prices skyrocketing.
For example, the fourth- and fifth-generation Glock pistols are the most advanced on the market and costs about $2,000 each, but in Israeli they are being sold for $15,000.
An M16 rifle usually sells for several thousand dollars but on the Israeli market it can fetch up to $35,000. A Kalashnikov rifle can cost up to $20,000.
Almost every month Israel thwarts an attempt to smuggle handgun and rifle parts from Jordan to the West Bank.
Ismat Mansour, a writer on Israeli affairs, claims that the smuggled weapons mostly go to families for use in internal conflicts, in addition to the armed militias of some sections of the Fatah movement in preparation for the time when Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas finally steps down.
“These weapons are mostly light and the Palestinians do not use them in their attacks against the Israelis as they use locally manufactured weapons such as ‘Carlo’ and ‘M16’ rifles coming from Israel through weapons dealers.”
Since the beginning of the year, the Israeli army has confiscated more than 300 guns from operations conducted at the border with Jordan.
According to the army, it foiled 19 smuggling operations since the beginning of the year, compared to 21 over the past two years.
In early October, it announced that it had seized 60 pistols and one M16 rifle near the town of Zubeidat, close to the Palestine-Jordan border.
The army said in a statement that it had arrested two Palestinians near the town in the largest anti-smuggling operation in the past five years.
In September, it arrested four Palestinians suspected of smuggling weapons from Jordan to the West Bank and confiscated 45 pistols and dozens of rifle parts.
The Israeli army had also arrested a Palestinian while taking a bag loaded with weapons that had been left on the Jordan-Palestine border fence.
The Israeli police, meanwhile, dismantled a network in the West Bank and Palestinian neighborhoods inside Israel, arrested 60 Palestinians and confiscated weapons, ammunition, narcotics and sums of money.
Last April, they thwarted an operation from Lebanon, seizing 100 hand grenades and two weapons suspected to be used for attacks on Israeli targets.
Rafiq Abu Hani, a retired major general and Gaza resident, said there are no heavy weapons in the West Bank, only light arms.
These arms are mostly used by families, various groups and drug dealers, and largely ignored by Israel, said Abu Hani.