US threatens to stop supplying rifles to Israel

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's national security minister, pictured with rifles being handed out to volunteer groups
Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's national security minister, pictured with rifles being handed out to volunteer groups - TSAFRIR ABAYOV/AP

The US has threatened to stop supplying rifles to Israel after their national security minister was seen handing them out to civilians.

The diplomatic spat was prompted by images on social media of Itamar Ben-Gvir giving rifles to community security squads across the country, according to Israel’s daily Haaretz.

The images appeared to show Mr Ben-Gvir distributing the arms at political events in Bnei Brak and El’ad, two towns near Tel Aviv.

After several days of diplomatic exchanges, Israel committed to distributing the weapons only through its police or army, although politicians can be present when they are handed out.

A state department spokesperson said: “President [Joe] Biden directed his team to ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself, consistent with international law, and we are actively providing additional security assistance to the Israeli Defence Forces.

“Our assistance will flow quickly to meet Israel’s urgent needs.”

A spokesman for Mr Ben-Gvir did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Since the start of the war with Hamas, Israel has set up hundreds of volunteer security squads and has been arming them in view of possible unrest in Palestinian communities.

Mr Ben-Gvir has predicted that this war could see a repeat of the tensions that followed the last Gaza war of 2021 and has ordered an easing of regulations for issuing gun licences to private citizens.

Israel steps up snatch squad raids

Retired Deputy Police Commissioner Shimon Lavi, who oversees the establishment of civilian security squads and their arming, said about 600 such groups have been created since Oct 7, the day of Hamas’s attack.

An additional 1,200 squads, which work under the supervision of Israeli police, will be created in the near future, Mr Lavi said.

These squads normally provide enhanced security in the country’s peripheral areas and in the West Bank settlements, where clashes between Jewish settlers and the Palestinians are frequent and have intensified since the war started.

Israeli police and army have stepped up raids in the occupied territories to arrest members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad since the start of the war.

According to the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, 103 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Oct 7, including 32 children.

UNRWA also said that, on Thursday, settlers attacked a community near Ramallah, in the West Bank, damaging homes and stealing items, the latest in a string of similar episodes.

It said in its latest report on Friday that since the start of the war “the increased levels of settler violence have resulted in the forced displacement of 82 households, comprising 607 people, including 211 children”.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, called on Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister,  to “rein in” extremist Jewish settler violence against innocent people in the West Bank.

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