Israeli police announced Monday it would begin arming civilians to serve as first responders in cities nationwide, as the war on Hamas in Gaza entered its tenth day.
Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir “decided on expanding the first responder units operating under police auspices to all of the cities,” a joint statement said.
The “347 new units” would be manned by “13,200 police volunteers, who will be enlisted and receive a rifle and protective gear”.
Israeli border communities have for years maintained such units, comprised of army veterans who receive arms and training and function in times of attacks or emergencies in coordination with the army or police.
Israel has been at war since Gaza’s Hamas militants staged an unprecedented attack on October 7 in which its gunmen shot, stabbed and mutilated people in a surprise onslaught that shocked the nation.
The attack and fighting since have killed more than 1,400 in Israel, mainly civilians.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and responded with a heavy bombing campaign on Gaza that has killed around 2,750 people.
In the days since the surprise attack police has bought over 6,000 rifles for 566 new civilian response units it founded, the statement said, with “border cities, major cities and mixed (Arab-Jewish) cities” prioritised as those most urgently needing the forces, the statement said.
Besides the new units, Ben Gvir’s office was working to relax the criteria for pistol licences so people with basic military training who live or work in conflict zones would be able to carry a gun.
A parliament session late Sunday that approved the new guidelines revealed that since October 7, some 41,000 Israelis applied for a gun licence, compared to 38,000 annually.
“The massacre in the south shows how important the emergency response units are — they saved entire communities,” Ben Gvir said in the Monday statement.