Israel’s policy is to remain “outside of the anarchy taking place all around us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday to a group of Druse leaders he met in the wake of the “lynch” attack earlier this week by some Golan Druse on an IDF ambulance transferring Syrians for medical treatment in Israel.
The attack, in which one person was killed, came amid rumors and reports in the Syrian media that Israel was assisting rebels taking part in the killing of Syrian Druse.
The IDF says its policy is to give preference to civilians and to offer medical aid only to moderate rebel groups, not – as some Druse claim – the Islamist Nusra Front.
Netanyahu told the group, which met in his Jerusalem office and included Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Maufak Tarif, that anyone who takes the law into his own hands must be condemned, to ensure that type of behavior does not become the norm.
“We must prevent a repetition of those types of incidents,” the prime minister said.
Netanyahu, after saying the Jews and Druse serve together in the IDF, stressed the importance of preventing attacks on IDF soldiers or preventing their carrying out a mission.
The prime minister expressed his respect and appreciation for the Druse community, one he said was evidenced recently in the adoption of a five-year, NIS 2 billion plan for the Druse community.
Tarif told Netanyahu the Druse leadership has strongly condemned the mob attack, adding: “We will not allow anyone to harm any soldier.”
The Druse religion, tradition and values, he said, are against the type of actions that led to the killing of a wounded Syrian in the ambulance.
“That is not our way, not how we have been educated, and we unequivocally condemn it,” he said.
Tarif also repeated his concern for the Syrian Druse and, in particular, those in the town of Hader, right next to Israeli territory.
Druse Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, who attended the meeting, said 1,600 Syrians have been evacuated to Israeli hospitals since the outbreak of fighting.
The meeting also was attended by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
“We will continue to rescue” wounded Syrians and “have responsible policies,” despite the recent attack on an Israeli ambulance, Ya’alon said Wednesday, calling the assault unacceptable and decrying the “unreasonableness of some Druse officials” in their conduct regarding the incident.
Joel Parker, a researcher on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Jerusalem Post he saw a letter signed by intellectuals and activists from the Syrian Druse city of Sweida on Tuesday which states that they don’t want the protection of “the Zionist entity.”
The letter, posted on a popular Facebook page for Syrian Druse, emphasized their “Syrianness” and that Sweida “cannot be divided or dismembered from mother Syria.”
“As such, we refuse to take shelter under any title that is not Syria, clearly, and specify that we refuse all statements which came by way of the leaders of the Zionist entity and their hollow claims for a path for the people of Sweida, which would regard [this people] as a part of the [Zionist leaders’] plan to divide the region,” it stated.
“We will not accept and will not authorize this, and we do not need anyone to defend us.”
Parker notes that the letter does not mention either Syrian President Bashar Assad or the rebels, which indicates a careful wording so as not to offend either side.
Meanwhile, Israeli security sources said nine suspects were arrested on Wednesday in connection with the ambulance attacks. A police spokeswoman said the arrests took place in the Druse communities within the Green Line and on the Golan.
The Northern District police arrested suspects in two attacks on IDF ambulances on Monday. Half of the suspects are from a Monday night incident during which some 100-150 or more residents of Majdal Shams are suspected of carrying out a well-planned ambush of an IDF ambulance, attacking and killing one of the two Syrians and seriously wounding the other, outside the entrance to Neveh Ativ.
It is believed that the mob had prior knowledge that the ambulance was carrying Syrian nationals, and that they may have been tipped off by a Druse soldier.
The two IDF soldiers in the ambulance were lightly wounded as they tried to protect the Syrians from the mob, the army said.
Following Monday night’s attack, the IDF said it is putting in place new regulations for transporting wounded Syrians, including police escorts, to prevent a similar incident in the future.
In the first incident on Monday, an IDF ambulance was chased and attacked outside the village of Hurfeish in the northern Galilee. In that case, a mob set up a roadblock to try to stop an ambulance carrying two wounded Syrians, with some members of the mob throwing stones at the vehicle.
The ambulance managed to evade the roadblock but was chased by two vehicles until it reached a police station in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, from where it was given a police escort to a hospital in Nahariya.Yonah Jeremy Bob and Reuters contributed to this report.