In Rare Move, Israel Says Ready to Protect Syrian Druze Town Under Attack by Islamic Militants

Israeli security forces had to prevent Israeli Druze from entering Syria after nine were killed and 23 wounded in Nusra Front attack ■ One Israeli Druze injured by errant fire

Druze men in Israel gather at the Syrian border after they heard about clashes in the Syrian Druze village of Khadar, on November 3, 2017.
Druze men in Israel gather at the Syrian border after they heard about clashes in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. JALAA MAREY/AFP

The Israeli army issued a statement on Friday morning declaring that it would intervene militarily to prevent the occupation of a Druze town in the Syrian Golan Heights which has come under attack by the Islamic militant group Nusra Front.

The statement followed heavy fighting in the town Khader on Friday morning, approximately three kilometers from the Israeli border, including a car bomb that killed at least nine people and injured 23.

The fighting died down in the afternoon, and according to reports in Khader the Druze regained control of positions in the village. A post on the village's Facebook account claimed victory and blamed Israel for assisting terrorists belonging to Nusra Front. According to sources in the Israel Defense Forces, the tension in the area has eased, but the alert level in Israel's north remains high.

In a statement issued on Friday morning, the IDF said it was determined to prevent Nusra Front from taking over Khader.

"The IDF is prepared and ready to help the villagers and prevent damage or occupation of the village out of a commitment to the Druze population," the statement said.

Sheikh Mowafak Abu Tariff, the chief spiritual leader of the Druze in Israel, and former minister Saleh Tarif with Northern Divison commander Yoel Strick, November 3, 2017.
Website Al-Masader

"The allegations of Israeli involvement and assistance to global jihad elements in the fighting on the Golan Heights are groundless," the statement added.

If military intervention had been required, the assessment was that the air force and artillery would be deployed. 

A resident of the Druze border town of Majdal Shams, on the Israeli side of the border, was slightly wounded by light-arms fire as part of the fighting and was treated for his injuries.

Earlier Friday, about 150 Druze, residents of the Golan Heights and Galilee, held a demonstration near the Israeli-Syrian border. Police and IDF forces blocked traffic to areas near the border fearing an attempt to break though and cross the border fence. 

Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Ali Maadi called on Friday morning for Druze to come to the Golan and help. “The time of truth has come. Our brothers in Khader are surrounded, we need to defend our brothers,” he said.

The mayor of Majdal Shams, Dolan Abu Salah, told Haaretz that residents are in touch with the IDF and the army understands the great sensitivity of the situation.

Smokes billows from the southern Syrian Druze village of Khadar on November 3, 2017 as seen from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.
Jalaa Marey / AFP

Sheikh Mowafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, arrived in Majdal Shams and met with senior IDF commanders, who vowed to prevent the occupation of Khader. Tarif told Israeli GOC Northern Command Yoel Strick that he trusts him and the IDF "to protect the Druze of Khader."

The Salafist Nusra Front said the organization has begun an operation “to remove the blockade” on the villages on the Syrian Golan Heights and Mount Hermon front. In a statement, the groups said it had no intention of harming the residents of Khader or their property, nor “those who interfere in the war.” Nusra Front warned the residents not to fight alongside the Syrian regime and warned them of the results of any such support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.