West Bank settlers on Tuesday accused the government of putting them at physical risk by initiating a nationwide crackdown on handguns.

Settlers were infuriated when it emerged at a Knesset meeting on Monday that Israel Police would make no execption for West Bank residents in a campaign to reduce the number of licensed and unlicensed handguns in private hands.

"You can't treat residents of Judea and Samaria like you treat residents of Ra'anana," said Orit Strok, a settler leader from Hebron. "It would have been more appropriate to find some other means to reduce the number of weapons in Judea and Samaria."

Settlers claim they need handguns for self-defense, especially when driving along corridors through Palestinian-administered territory reserved for Israeli-registered vehicles, often the site of attacks.

"We live in an area saturated with weapons, most of which are illegal, but which kill," Strok said. "If the authorities are incapable of either of removing weapons from the hands of Palestinians or of protecting us, it would be proper for them to allow us to defend ourselves."

In Monday's meeting of the Knesset interior and environment committee, it emerged that police were applying the handgun ban to all Israeli, making no distinction between those living inside and outside the Green Line.

Strok claimed Palestinians were taking advantage of the ban to make false accusations against settlers.

"The Arabs all around know there is a ban and are lodging false complaints, so that the police are opening criminal investigations against everyone," she said. "Until their innocence is proved they are banned from carrying weapons."

Strock cited the case of Uri Amsale, a settler from Kiryat Arba, who was forced to hand over his gun to police in 2002 after Palestinians filed a complaint against him for threatening behavior.

A court later acquitted Amsale on all charges, Strock said. But when in 2007 he tried to register the birth of his daughter, the interior ministry refused him permission on the grounds that he owned an unlicensed weapon.

On another occasion, a settler fired in the air, later claiming his life was in danger. A case against him was closed after a court found that his response was proportionate. But his handgun was not returned to him, Strock said.