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Officers seize 20 handguns from Palestinian gun smugglers in southern Israel

Police suspect weapons were brought in illegally over Jordanian border and were headed to West Bank; two Bethlehem men arrested

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Weapons seized by police officers near Tel Arad in southern Israel, after an alleged gun-smuggling over the border with Jordan on May 2, 2022. (Israel Police)
Weapons seized by police officers near Tel Arad in southern Israel, after an alleged gun-smuggling over the border with Jordan on May 2, 2022. (Israel Police)

Police arrested two Palestinian men in southern Israel on Monday morning suspected of smuggling guns from Jordan, confiscating several handguns in the process.

According to police, the two Bethlehem residents in their 30s were caught near Tel Arad in southern Israel, and found to be in possession of 20 handguns.

Police said they suspected the two men were headed to the West Bank with the weapons. Law enforcement officials have previously indicated that guns smuggled in from Jordan are often sold to Arab Israelis, for both criminal and terrorist purposes.

The value of the handguns seized on Monday was estimated at some NIS 500,000 ($150,000), police officials said.

The two Palestinian men were to be brought before a Beersheba court later on Monday for an extension of their remand.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailed the police operation. “We are determined to fight crime in Arab society and collect the illegal weapons. Police have now seized about 20 handguns in the Arad area. We will continue until we cleanse Israel of illegal weapons,” Bennett said in a tweet.

The military and police have stepped up efforts to halt smuggling attempts along the Jordanian border in recent months, but officials have admitted that success has been limited thus far.

Unlike Israel’s other frontiers — with Egypt, Lebanon and Syria — its border with Jordan is largely open, often without significant fencing, and is relatively unguarded, making it an easy channel for large-scale smuggling.

Last week, 24 firearms apparently smuggled over the Jordanian border were seized.

Authorities have increasingly sought to crack down on the unmitigated spread of illegal weapons in the Arab Israeli community, which have been used to carry out record-breaking numbers of murders in recent years.

According to the Abraham Initiatives, a non-government group lobbying against violence in the Arab community, last year 125 Arabs were killed in Israel in community violence — an all-time record. Since the beginning of 2022, another 27 have been killed in incidents of violent crime.

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