Smoke rises following an explosion on the Syrian side near the Quneitra border crossing between the Golan Heights and Syria, August 29, 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Sources close to the family of a 23-year-old Israeli Arab from Jaljulya who allegedly paraglided into Syria to join an Islamist rebel group said Sunday that the family received a message that the man was alive and well.
According to the sources, an anonymous caller telephoned the family, telling them, "Your son is well."
Relatives and acquaintances of the defector arrived at the family home in Jaljulya throughout Sunday. According to one such visitor, the man's mother cried the entire time. "My son did not go to Syria to join the rebel groups," she shouted, according to an eyewitness. "I believe that he will come home soon," she is said to have added.
One relative of the man said that he believes the paraglider was accidentally blown from his path because of strong winds. "We don't believe the security forces' version of events - that he flew to Syria to join the ranks of the Islamic State, ISIS," the relative said.
When asked about the paraglider, one of his relatives said that "nobody from the family knew that he learned parachuting." He added that "the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told us this morning that he bought a paraglider and hid it in his car. Nobody from the family saw the parachute. Plus, you need to practice to parachute. So where exactly did he practice parachuting?"
Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara (Likud) said that the case of the youth from Jaljulya shows that "the current wave of terror once again has raised the motivation of Israeli Arabs to join terror organizations, especially ISIS, after the phenomenon had almost entirely disappeared in the last year."
Kara said that this made it necessary to once again organize efforts to educate youth against joining terror groups.
On Saturday evening, at approximately 5 p.m., IDF look-outs spotted the paraglider hovering from northern Israel into Syria, and alerted the military, which launched a large-scale search.
"We believe he planned this move to the other side, and joined a group there," IDF Spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz told reporters during a conference call. "From the moment we spotted him, a large operational and intelligence search and investigation by the Northern Command, which was joined by the Shin Bet, began," he added.
Throughout the night, large numbers of rumors circulated on social media about events on the northern border.
"It seems, based on our understanding, that this 23-year-old was collected by someone on the other side [of the border]," Almoz said. "We assume that someone who paraglided in this direction planned to do it."
Throughout the past year, the Shin Bet has monitored and, on occasion, arrested a handful of Arab Israeli individuals suspected of planning to join ISIS in Syria.
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.