JERUSALEM — A global craze for dressing up as evil clowns to terrify passersby has hit Israel — and few are seeing the funny side.

Israeli police say that over the past few weeks they have detained dozens of young people “who have been found wearing masks on their faces or possessing various masks in order to instill fear and panic among the public,” inspired, most likely, by the new Hollywood film “It” — based on the Stephen King novel about an evil clown who emerges from the sewers to prey on children.

Some have been caught carrying knives and clubs.

Although the clowns have yet to cause any serious harm or damage, people are taking the phenomenon seriously. In a country locked in a low-intensity conflict with the Palestinians and traumatized by regular knifing, shooting and vehicular attacks, authorities have warned that those dressed as creepy clowns may be mistaken for a credible threat.

On Sunday, a popular radio show dedicated almost half an hour to discussing the evil clowns by inviting “good” clowns to defend their profession. They lamented that younger children might now be scared to invite clowns to their birthday parties.

Israeli children are currently on vacation for the Jewish high holy days, but that did not stop the Education Ministry from publishing guidelines to help children cope with the clown scare, the Times of Israel news website reported last week.

On its Facebook page Sunday, Israeli police called on parents to talk to their children and prevent them from taking part in the phenomenon.

They also warned people against taking the law into their own hands and fighting back against the clowns.

Since the scary clowns stepped out of the shadows, other teens have set up night patrols to combat them. Over the weekend, police detained five teens ages 13 to 16 and armed with clubs and knives in the coastal city of Ashkelon. They said they were carrying weapons just in case they came face to face with any clowns.

In the northern city of Safed, the local council launched a campaign to put an end to the craze, coining the slogan “My little clown, here you will end up with a criminal record,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

The scary-clown phenomenon in Israel is similar to one that trended internationally last year and was fueled by social media, police said. During 2016, sightings of people dressed in scary clown costumes were common across the United States and Britain.

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