At least 20 members of Syria‘s Druze minority have been killed in an unprecedented shootout with Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front in northwestern Syria, a monitor said on Thursday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Wednesday’s shooting occurred after the Nusra Front tried to confiscate the home of a government official in the village of Qalb Loze in Idlib province.
It said fighters shot a villager dead before another captured the rifle of a jihadi and opened fire, killing a Nusra Front fighter.
Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said villagers had protested after a Tunisian Al-Nusra leader “tried to seize a house belonging to a Druze resident of Qalb Loze, claiming he was loyal to the regime.”
“Relatives of the owner of the house protested and tried to stop him, then there was an altercation and shooting,” he added.
“The Tunisian leader brought his men and accused the Druze residents of the village of blasphemy and opened fire on them killing at least 20 people, among them elderly people and at least one child.”
The main Western-backed Syrian National Coalition said “dozens of Druze young men” were killed.
The Druze, a 10th century offshoot of Shiite Islam, made up about 5 percent of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million people. The majority of Syrian Druze live in the south.
Last month, Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani said in an interview with Al Jazeera that Muslim proselytizers had been sent by the group to Druze villages to “inform them of the doctrinal pitfalls they have fallen into.” In 2013, Druze in 14 northern villages were forced to convert to Islam by Islamic State fighters.