Majdal Shams (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Tuesday to track down Druze rioters in the occupied Golan Heights responsible for the “lynching” of a wounded Syrian being transported to a hospital.
The Monday attack, roundly condemned by local Druze religious and secular leadership, comes as Druze are increasingly concerned over the fate of their brethren in Syria after attacks by rebels there.
Two Syrian men were being taken to hospital late Monday when dozens of Druze in the town of Majdal Shams stoned their ambulance, forcing it to stop and dragging the men from the vehicle.
They beat both of them, with one later pronounced dead and the other seriously wounded. An Israeli soldier and an officer in the ambulance were roughed up.
“This is very severe,” Netanyahu said of the attack. “We will find those who carried out the lynching and bring them to justice.”
“We are a country of law, not part of the anarchy spreading around us,” he continued, calling on local Druze leadership to calm things down and tell all the Druze “not to take the law into their hands.”
Israel has a policy of providing humanitarian assistance to wounded Syrians who seek help by crossing over to the Jewish state.
Syrian Druze are traditional allies of President Bashar al-Assad, and the rioters on Monday likely believed the men in the ambulance were rebels fighting to unseat him.
The Druze are followers of a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam. Officials say there are 110,000 of them in northern Israel and another 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six Day War.
The spiritual leader of Israel’s Druze, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, told AFP an emergency meeting of Israel’s religious and secular Druze leadership “strongly condemned these deeds.”
“This is not our way; we are pained by what happened,” he said of the attack, calling it “a deplorable act committed by outlaws.”
“The Druze religion, values and tradition prohibit inflicting any harm on wounded people,” he said, stressing the leaders condemning the attack included the Druze of the Golan Heights.
– ‘Civilians, not Nusra’ –
Tensions have flared in Druze areas of northern Israel and the occupied Golan Heights after rebels surrounded a government-held Druze village on the Syria side last week.
Syria’s official news agency SANA said the two men being transported Monday were “terrorists from Al-Nusra Front,” the country’s Al-Qaeda franchise.
Syrian authorities label all those fighting to oust Assad “terrorists” and make no distinction between jihadist groups like Al-Nusra and other, internationally backed forces.
Israel denied the Syrian claim, saying the men were civilians.
“The claim we’re helping Al-Nusra Front is incorrect,” military spokesman Brigadier General Moti Almoz told army radio.
Damascus has regularly accused Israel of backing forces fighting the regime.
The Jewish state says it is not involved in the internal Syrian fighting, but could not rule out the possibility that some of the wounded men who receive medical care are rebels.
“We don’t (give medical care) according to race or colour or religion; rather we give the humanitarian life-saving help to whomever reaches the border and asks for help,” army spokesman Major Arye Shalicar told AFP.
Shalicar noted that Israel has treated more than 1,600 Syrians in the past three years