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Israel's Ben-Gvir pushes for five-fold increase in gun permits

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Border police officers walk outside the house of Palestinian gunman Khaire Alkam in A-Tur in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's hardline National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir pledged on Tuesday to push through a five-fold increase in gun permits in the wake of a deadly attack outside a synagogue last month that killed seven people.

A statement from Ben-Gvir's Jewish Power party said he had ordered the Firearms Licensing Department to speed up the issuance of new permits from around 2,000 a month to 10,000.

Armed civilians openly carrying pistols in holsters on their hips and off-duty soldiers with their service weapons are common sights in Israel and in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank but Ben-Gvir vowed to increase the number of permits drastically after the Jan. 27 synagogue attack by a Palestinian gunman.

A day after the attack, a 13 year-old Palestinian boy opened fire on a group of passersby in the Jerusalem district of Silwan, wounding two before an armed civilian fired back, wounding him.

Israeli ministers have cited the civilian's action in support of the plans to expand gun ownership, but last week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Tuerk warned the plans would only lead to more violence and bloodshed.

Many Israelis are familiar with guns through the country's near-universal compulsory military service but those wishing to own a gun in civilian life must meet a number of strict government requirements.

In most cases, only pistols are permitted and licenses are dependent on completing firearms training.

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)