Following Monday’s Golan Heights mob attack on an IDF ambulance evacuating two wounded Syrians, one of whom was killed, the army is instituting operational changes to prevent further such incidents.
The IDF plans to continue transporting people wounded in Syria’s civil war for treatment in Israeli hospitals, in line with government policy.
From now on, however, its ambulances will be escorted by police, and evacuation techniques will be changed.
Contrary to media reports that it had instructed the ambulance to stay clear of the Druse village of Majdal Shams, an initial IDF investigation found there had been no other route, as driving via Mount Dov is considered operationally risky due to its proximity to the northern border.
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The investigation found that between 100 to 150 residents of Majdal Shams carried out a well-planned ambush on the ambulance, appearing suddenly and setting up a road block. The attackers were masked.
The ambulance drove off toward the moshav of Neveh Ativ, but the mob caught up outside the moshav’s main gate. It attacked the ambulance, killing one of the Syrian men and badly injuring the other. Two IDF soldiers were lightly hurt as they tried to protect the Syrians.
The mob apparently knew that the ambulance was carrying wounded Syrians, as it did not attack empty ambulances traveling in the area.
After the attack, footage emerged of hundreds of people celebrating in a central roundabout in Majdal Shams.
The ambulance had a Military Police escort after an incident earlier in the day in which a mob attacked an IDF ambulance transporting two Syrians to a hospital in Nahariya as it was passing the Druse village of Hurfeish in the Upper Galilee. That ambulance managed to evade the mob, although it was pursued by two vehicles until making it to a police station in nearby Ma’alot-Tarshiha.
Fed by rumors and reports in the Syrian media and elsewhere, a widespread assertion has taken flight among the Israeli Druse community that Israel is assisting the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front by treating its fighters in Israeli hospitals.
For the past two weeks, Israeli Druse have been incensed by reports of Syrian Druse being killed by the Nusra Front in fighting in just over the border, and have called on Israel to immediately stop assisting the Islamists.
The IDF asserts that its policy is to give preference to non-combatants and to offer medical assistance only to moderate rebel groups.
Late Monday night, commanders of the Israel Police’s Northern District held a meeting and tasked its special investigative unit with investigating the killing. The IDF investigation found no fault in the conduct of the soldiers who tried to protect the patients by putting themselves in harm’s way, or in the conduct of the Military Police personnel accompanying the ambulance.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called the attack “gravely serious” and vowed that Israel “will not let anyone take the law into their own hands, and won’t let anyone interfere with IDF soldiers carrying out their missions.” He added that Israel would find those responsible for the attack, and called on leaders of the country’s Druse community to calm the situation.
Following the attack, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that “we will not go back to the normal routine” and that Israel “will not allow anarchy, violent conduct or the taking of the law into one’s own hand” by some residents.
“This incident is a violation of the state’s values, which are expressed by humanitarian medical treatment to wounded Syrians, and to every person who needs it,” Ya’alon said.
He added that a small but violent group would “not harm the special alliance the State of Israel has with its Druse civilians, and will not succeed in tarnishing the face” of the country’s Druse community.
“I call on public officials talking about the issue to show restraint and refrain from incendiary remarks,” he said. “The reality in Syria is complex. We are dealing with the situation responsibly, with sound judgment, and we are updating the Druse leadership on developments.”
Brig-Gen. Moti Almoz, the IDF spokesman, released a statement on his Facebook account condemning the attack.
“The IDF has not assisted the Nusra Front organization since the start of internal [Syrian] fighting throughout the last four years,” he said. “We assist injured Syrians who arrive at the border and provide them with medical care. Now is the time to calm things down. I wish a speedy recovery to all of the wounded.”
In the hours that followed the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot held an evaluation meeting with Northern Command chief Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. Eisenkot condemned the attack, saying that “it is unfathomable that IDF soldiers and wounded [Syrians] will be assaulted by Israeli civilians.”
A senior IDF official on Monday night issued an outright denial that the two men in the ambulance were jihadist fighters from Syria’s civil war.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman told Army Radio on Tuesday that such assertions were ridiculous.
“There is no cooperation between Israel and the Nusra Front,” he said. “There is no intention of [engaging in such cooperation]. It’s simply insane.”
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