HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) - Two years ago, an M16 automatic rifle could fetch $5,400 or more in the Palestinian West Bank
. Now buyers at Hebron's clandestine gun market are asked to pay more than double
Four months after Islamist Hamas routed secular Fatah in the Gaza Strip, fears that clashes between the Palestinian rivals could erupt in the West Bank and uncertainty ahead of a U.S.-led peace conference are fuelling a scramble for guns.
Dealers at the gun market in Hebron, the West Bank's most populous city, say weapons sales have jumped by up to 70 percent since Hamas took control of Gaza, while buoyant demand and supply bottlenecks due to tighter security have inflated prices.
In the northern West Bank city of Jenin, every bullet for an AK-47 rifle costs 35 Israeli shekels, or more than $8
. In Hamas-controlled Gaza, an AK-47 bullet goes for 4-6 Israeli shekels, $1-1.50
Militants from both Hamas and Fatah, and the powerful family clans who are often called in to deal with West Bank crime or land disputes, are driving the market, according to gun dealers and senior Palestinian security sources.
But ordinary West Bankers, too, are taking no risks.
"I don't feel safe anymore," said 28-year-old Abo Abdo, who sold his car this month to buy a rifle to protect his wife and two children. "Everyone is buying guns."