Druze residents from the village of Horfish in northern Israel early Monday attacked a military ambulance carrying wounded Syrians, demanding to check whether the passengers on board belonged to a rebel organization involved in the civil war raging in Syria.
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A number of the residents first blocked the ambulance's path as it was making its way through the village and asked to check its passengers. As the ambulance left, it was chased by two cars, and stones were thrown in its directions.
The ambulance managed to escape to the police station in the nearby town of Ma'alot and none of the passengers was injured, but one of the people chasing the ambulance down did sustain wounds and was taken to the hospital in Naharia for treatment.
The Ma'alon Police Station is investigating the incident, in cooperation with the Military Police.
The Druze in the village are actively opposed to the fact that the Israel Defense Forces has been granting to those wounded in the civil war in Syria without checking whether they are members of rebel organizations, including those threatening the lives of the Druze citizens of Syria.
Most of the Druze in the Golan Heights do not enlist in the army, though their brethren in the Galilee and the Carmel do serve, and the situation of the Druze community in Syria often raises questions of loyalty among the community in Israel.
Farah Sabeq, secretary of the Horfish municipality, confirmed several townsmen had taken part in the incident. Speaking to Reuters, he described them as "incensed by the situation in Syria" and said that while they had tried to close the road used by the ambulance, he knew of no stone-throwing.
"We condemn this as we would any illegal activity, but especially here, as it involved the security forces - in all branches of which Horfish residents serve," Sabeq said.
Ayoob Kara, a Druze deputy Israeli minister, sought to reassure his kinsmen about Syrian casualties coming into Israel.
In a statement, Kara said Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon had told him Israel would not admit fighters from radical jihadi groups Islamic State or Nusra Front. Israeli officials have said they did not condition treatment on casualties' affiliations.
The military declined to elaborate on the identities of the Syrians who were in the ambulance stopped outside Horfish.
In a statement, Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, the head of Israel's Druze community, condemned the confrontation as "the kind of provocation that harms our interests and those of our Druze brothers over the border".
"This is our moment of truth," he said. "The Druze religion and tradition opposes any physical harm, especially against wounded people."
A Druze army officer, on patrol at one of the outlooks, said: "If Israel continues to treat wounded from rebel units, the Druze will have to take off their uniforms."
Nevertheless, the officer said, "all of the Druze in the army must fulfill their duties in their entirety," and added that, "our loyalty is to the army – if something happens in Syria, we will fight against the Druze."
He said that he was angered by the fact that Israeli Druze soldiers were forced, in his words, to evacuate wounded Syrians who had fought under the rebel command which threatened their Syrian brothers.
According to IDF figures, more than 1,600 wounded Syrians have been treated in Israeli hospitals over the course of the four years of fighting in Syria, many of them women and children. The IDF's official approach is that the medical treatment is humanitarian aid to be granted regardless of the wounded person's background. Nevertheless, some Druze see this as an act of betrayal, particularly considering the fighting that took place last week in the Syrian village of Khader.
The village of Khader, about a stone’s throw from the border with Israel on the Golan Heights, was last week the chief concern of Israel’s 130,000 Druze citizens.
Earlier last week, the village’s 12,000 inhabitants, who are Syrian citizens, found themselves in the eye of the storm. On Monday, two Syrian army soldiers who were serving in a military outpost next to Khader killed their commanding officer, a Druze, before defecting to the ranks of the extremist rebel organization Nusra Front. The next day, the Sunni rebels seized additional, strategic hills in proximity to the village and took over two Syrian army positions, after driving out the regime-supporting soldiers. Some of the mortars the rebels fired at the army forces landed on the edge of Khader. One Druze girl was killed, and about 10 residents were wounded.
The two positions that were captured were not large military bases but fairly typical Syrian army outposts, of the kind that is familiar to every Israel Defense Forces soldier after decades of participating in training exercises in how to take them over.
At the moment, the rebels are not advancing further toward Khader. They probably know that many residents are armed and are organizing to defend their families. The warnings from Israel have also likely had an effect: By means of contacts with some of the local militias from the Syrian part of the Golan Heights – mainly in the form of transfers of wounded people to hospitals in Israel – it was made clear that Israel will not sit by idly in case of an attempt to attack and capture the village.
Nonetheless, those messages have done little to allay the fears of Israel’s Druze community. As far as they are concerned, the small distance between the rebels in the newly captured outposts and the village reflects the magnitude of the danger. Only an hour or two separate their brethren in Khader from potential massacre – a fate that minorities in Syria have already suffered at the hands of extremist Sunni groups such as the Nusra Front and Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL.