More Israelis allowed guns

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As violence increases between Israelis and Palestinians Israel's Interior Minister believes he knows what his country needs: more guns. Currently there are just 300,000 licences for privately held arms in Israel, but under looser regulations approved by Eli Suissa, this week, the number may double.

The decision to allow more Israeli citizens to carry guns has not passed without criticism. Dan Shomron, former army chief of staff and chief negotiator with the Palestinians, says: "There is already enough violence in Israeli society. Flooding the country with more weapons ? No good will come of it."

Under the new regulations, civilians who served in combat units in the army will be entitled to carry guns and the minimum age for licence holders will fall from 21 to 20.

Anybody who served in army, police or prison service also automatically gets a gun. Given that the Israeli army's reserve corps is estimated to number 500,000, a lot of people will now be free to get a weapon.

Dubi Gazit, in charge of the Interior Ministry committee which drew up the new regulations, said: "I think this means that guns will be in safe, trained hands." He added that the security situation was one reason for distributing more arms to Israelis.

It is not as if Israeli law on gun ownership is particularly restrictive. Yigal Amir killed Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister, last year with a licensed pistol, which he held as a settler who had served in the army.

In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, an army reservist and a settler in Kiryat Arba, overlooking Hebron, was the legal owner of the assault rifle he used to murder 29 worshippers in the city's al-Ibrahimi mosque.