Israel to Syria rebels: 'Don't mess with the Druze'
Israel's defence ministry has warned Syrian rebels that they should keep jihadists at bay and avoid attacking the Druze minority, if they require humanitarian and medical aid from the Jewish state.
Israel has a policy of giving medical assistance to wounded Syrians who reach Israeli lines, but tensions have flared recently due to rebel violence against Druze in Syria. The violence has led to concern among their Druze brethren in northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Last week, Druze attacked an Israeli military ambulance on the Golan transporting wounded Syrians to hospital, killing one of them.
The deadly incident took place hours after Druze in the neighbouring Galilee region of Israel blocked and stoned a military ambulance they suspected was taking Syrian rebels to hospital.
Following a briefing by Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, a defence spokesman told journalists that if "a wounded person reaches the fence - you have to help," continuing , "he gets better, you return him, and you convey a message through him: if you want the humanitarian aid to continue, please make sure not to let jihadists approach the fence, and secondly, don't mess with the Druze."
Israel says it is not involved in the internal Syrian fighting, but cannot rule out the possibility that some of those given medical care are rebels.
Rebels dominated by Islamist fighters have in the past few weeks battled government forces on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Druze - a minority that straddles the Syrian-Israeli ceasefire line, and traditional allies of President Bashar al-Assad - have been caught up in the unrest. Israel is also concerned about the presence of jihadist rebels on its frontier with war-torn Syria.
Last week's incidents targeting the Syrian wounded demonstrated the anger felt by Druze towards the rebels as well as towards the Israelis, whom they suspect of providing medical help to the fighters.
The Druze are a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam. Officials say there are 110,000 of them in northern Israel and another 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan. Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan Heights from neighbouring Syria in the 1967 Six Day War.