Israel police.
Israel police. Photo by Moti Kimche
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Police have confiscated 180 illegal firearms and more than 50 hand grenades from residents of Arab towns in the north since the beginning of this year, as part of a campaign aimed at reducing crime and accidental deaths, police said on Monday.

"The use or possession of illegal firearms is a cancer spreading through our society," Michael Shafshek, commander of the Northern District central unit, said at a news briefing on Monday. "Confiscating firearms has become a leading objective for us."

Shafshek said a campaign begun last year, when police confiscated some 900 illegal rifles, pistols and hand grenades, are typically "used by criminals to deal with business or family disputes, and they are used to intimidate."

Police also cited the role of guns in accidental deaths in Arab communities, saying illegal firearms are often fired at weddings and other festive events, a practice some Arab leaders have attempted to discourage.

"The use of such weapons has often caused injury to human life or property," a Northern District officer said, citing a wedding several months ago in the Western Galilee town of Majdal Krum at which the groom's brother was killed by celebratory gunfire. Several suspects were arrested and are being prosecuted.

Police officers in the north said that in past years, increasing numbers of illegal firearms have been hoarded by local residents. Police data indicate that in the past year, there were 557 uses of such weapons.

Police officers acknowledge, however, that there are still thousands of illegal firearms in the country, particularly in Arab villages and towns.

They said some of the weapons have been stolen from private residences or army depots. Others are manufactured independently or smuggled in from the West Bank.