A 23-year-old Israeli Arab paraglided over the border into Syria Saturday night in an apparent attempt to join the civil war. His family said Sunday that the man had become religious in the past year.
During the night Saturday, Israeli military forces, including fighter jets, were seen deployed in the Golan Heights. The Israeli censor banned reporting on the incident until Sunday morning.
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Israeli military lookouts identified a glider crossing the border into Syrian territory at 5 P.M. on Saturday. Large military forces were rushed to the scene. Aircrafts flew overhead in an attempt to identify the landing site.
"We don't know all the details, but apparently it was a 23-year-old Arab Israeli from Jaljulya, who did what he did intentionally and was picked up there," IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz told military reporters. "We don't know if people were waiting for him there, but we estimate that whoever did this kind of thing – against the direction of gliding – did so on purpose."
The IDF and Shin Bet security service are investigating the incident.
According to a source in the Israeli defense establishment, when the initial report that a manned glider crossed the border came in, it was initially suspected that a paraglider was inadvertently carried over the border by winds, and paragliding clubs were contacted to see if anyone went missing.
The family and friends of the Jaljulya resident commented on the incident Sunday morning. The young man’s uncle said that although the family is secular, his nephew had become religious over the past year. The uncle said the young man’s father had received a phone call about an hour after an IDF observation post spotted the paraglider, in which he was told, “Your son is fine. He’s with us. Don’t worry,” before the call was cut off. The father says the speaker had a Bedouin accent.
“He started becoming more religious. He started praying every morning in the mosque,” said the uncle, who said he last saw the young man on Friday. “I told him that he’s 23 now and the best thing he should do is get married and have children and raise a family.”
The uncle also said the young man is the second of five children, and that the family is shocked by his actions. “From the moment his mother understood what happened, she’s been crying and shouting for him to come home. Now there’s talk that he bought the paraglider and hid it in his car. It’s not clear how he managed to do it. You have to know how to control and fly one of those things. Where did he practice? We don’t know.”
Jaljulya council head Faik Odeh said Sunday that the paraglider’s family is not considered extremist at all. “It’s not one of the biggest families in town, but they are well known,” he said. “They’re a quiet family.”
Odeh said the council has no information on the incident. “We know that the Shin Bet and the police showed up this morning [Sunday]. I don’t know what happened there – if he got carried away by the wind or if he got carried away by the spirit of the Islamic State. We’re trying to find out all we can.
"Maybe the recent unrest surrounding Al-Aqsa Mosque affected him. It is certainly affecting our young people, and not necessarily in a good way. I can tell you we’re not really prepared for such things. We once had to deal with a fellow who came back from ISIS, and we thought we’d put all that behind us. And now this happens,” added Odeh.
At the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would take steps to have the young man’s citizenship revoked in wake of his attempt to join rebel organizations hostile to Israel.