Israelis Call it a Lynching: Ambulance with Wounded Syrians Attacked by Israeli Druze — One Syrian Killed

[This report was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon, for The Jerusalem Post.]

A notorious name from the past is surprisingly linked, now, with the unexpected violence in northern Israel and the Golan Heights.

Samir Kuntar — the Lebanese Druze terrorist who was incarcerated for 29 years in Israel for murdering in cold blood a baby — and then released in a prisoner swap with Hezbollah in 2008 — is responsible for whipping up violence among Druze on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights. That’s what some Druze community leaders charged on Tuesday.

The comments came less than a day after Golan Druze carried out what Israeli authorities have termed “a lynching” of a wounded Syrian who was being transported by an IDF ambulance across the frontier late Monday. Some Druze activists have charged that the Israel Defense Force is helping the Nusra Front rebels in Syria (a branch of al-Qaeda, according to the United States) — clearly considered enemies of the Druze.

The attack on the ambulance (the second in two days) shocked Israel’s defense and political establishments, who have called for calm while taking pains to remind the Druze of the state’s historic commitment to their well-being. The Druze, a sect that are neither Muslim nor Jewish, neither Arab nor Jew, number around 140,000 in Israel (where their men serve in the Israeli military, often with distinction and making good advantage of their Arabic language) and 700,000 in Syria.

CIA's public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right

CIA’s public map of Israel: see Golan Heights in upper right

“The man who is behind the incident that is fueling the violent events here is Samir Kuntar,” said Jabber Hamud, the head of the Sagur regional council who also serves as the chairman of the Druze and Circassian local councils. “We’ve known this for some time, and I call on the heads of the defense establishment to do all that is necessary.”

After his release from an Israeli prison Kuntar became a senior official in Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement. He was put in charge of the Syrian part of the Golan Heights, with a special emphasis on the Druze community there.

According to Israeli military sources Kuntar commanded in the past months a few terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli soldiers in the area.

Hamud was speaking at a meeting of Druze community leaders in the village of Nabi Shu’ayb, a holy shrine of the Druze community. The meeting was also attended by prominent Druze from the Golan Heights, including the Druze border village of Majdal Shams, where the attack on the Israeli ambulance — the “lynching” — occurred.

The Druze leadership called the meeting to convey the message that  they do not share the view that Israel is aiding Nusra Front jihadists in Syria.

Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, he of Druze descent, sought to communicate the Netanyahu government’s position that Israel’s treatment of Syrians is a purely humanitarian matter.

A military source told The Jerusalem Post late Tuesday that the wounded Syrians who were attacked on the Golan Heights were not members of Nusra Front.

“As an Israeli Druze, I am spurred to answer the call to assist our Druze brothers in Syria,” said Salman Amar, the head of the Julis regional council. “We will do everything in our power to help them defend themselves against any attempt to butcher them solely because of their Druze background.”

“Thus far, almost 1,500 Druze have been killed in fighting in Syria, and we here did not say a word about it because the dead were soldiers and officers and fighters,” he said. “But once the community became a target for liquidation solely because of their Druze ethnicity, we cannot sit idly by. We will do what we can to protect them.”

Despite the emotionally charged atmosphere, Amar called on his fellow Druze to obey the law.

“The State of Israel is a country of laws, and everyone who breaks the law must be put on trial,” he said. “I call on the Israel Police not to hesitate in bringing the criminals to justice.

“Whoever attacks an IDF vehicle is a terrorist, and the attack was a terrorist act,” he added. “Whoever raises a hand to an IDF soldier must have that hand cut off, whether it is an extremist Druze, a Jewish fanatic, or a nationalist Arab. I will be a bitter enemy of whoever attacks the IDF, and it doesn’t matter what the excuse is.”

Kara told The Jerusalem Post that those responsible for the violence are “just a tiny minority” of the 15,000 Druze residents of Majdal Shams “who for a while now have been incited by the Assad regime in Syria as well as by Hezbollah, who have been disseminating deceitful propaganda about Israel’s supposed cooperation with Nusra Front.”

The goal of the campaign, according to Kara, is “to drag Israel into the civil war in Syria and to further divide the Druze community.”

Sources well-versed in the subject say that residents of the Syrian Druze town of Khader on the Syrian side of the Golan, 2 kilometers from Majdal Shams, have been told that no harm will come to them so long as they remain neutral in the civil war.

Nonetheless, there remain pockets of Khader that are solidly supportive of the Bashar Assad regime and even serve in its army. It is known that Syrian intelligence officers maintain a presence in the village, and there are quite a number of residents who enjoy either direct or indirect financial support from Damascus. That gives the Druze monetary incentive to back Assad.

The rebels fighting Assad have no desire to occupy the village. Instead, their goal is to gain control over the entire swath of area stretching from Khader to Damascus. In recent weeks, fierce gun battles have been reported on the main highway connecting Khader to Khan Arnabeh.

Israel’s strategy, however, remains the same as it has been manifested in the 50-months-long bloody civil war – to stay out and not intervene as long as peace, calm, and tranquility can be maintained along the Israeli-Syrian border.

June 23, 2015

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