An IDF ambulance was pelted with stones in the Israeli-Druze village of Hurfeish early on Monday by locals who believed that it was carrying injured Syrian jihadists seeking medical care in the Jewish state.
The Israeli army vehicle, carrying spillover casualties from the Syrian civil war, was stopped early in the morning outside the town and surrounded by several residents who demanded they be allowed to inspect the passengers, police said.
As the ambulance pulled away, it was pelted with stones, and one 54-year-old local man was left injured, apparently after he was hit by the military vehicle.
Israel routinely takes in and treats Syrians injured in the civil war, and the IDF has set up a field hospital along the border to that effect.
Hurfeish municipality leader Farah Sabeq condemned the incident and explained that local residents are worried and tense about the plight of thousands of Syrian Druze being targeted by jihadist groups.
“We condemn this as we would any illegal activity, but especially here, as it involved the security forces — in all branches of which Hurfeish residents serve,” Sabeq told Reuters, adding that residents were “incensed by the situation in Syria.”
In addition, deputy minister Ayoub Kara, a Likud party Druze politician, noted that he had assurances from Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon that members of Syrian jihadi groups are not brought to Israel for medical care.
The Druze, a mystic sect that broke away from Shiite Islam in the 11th century, are ideologically loyal to the countries in which they reside. Israel’s Druze speak Hebrew and many serve in the IDF.
However, residents of the four Druze villages in the Golan heights, which were captured by Israel in 1967, remain outwardly loyal to the Syrian regime and have mostly refused to accept Israeli citizenship.
Druze are considered heretical to Sunni Islam, and have been targeted by the radical al-Nusra Front and Islamic State groups.
Since at least 20 Druze were killed earlier this month by al-Nusra beside the Turkish border, their Israeli counterparts have become more forceful in pressuring Jerusalem to find a solution to their plight.
The Israeli government has been monitoring the situation and mulling a number of proposals to aid the embattled group, including the creation of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Another such proposal involves a number of Jewish towns in northern Israel that may absorb Druze refugees fleeing the war, the Hebrew daily Yedioth reported Monday.
In the event that members of the minority group flee or are uprooted from them homes in Syria by jihadist organizations, the Upper Galilee Regional Council consisting of 29 kibbutzim may take them in.
Council head Giora Zetlz said that background checks were still being made, but that the necessary infrastructure and equipment exists to absorb evacuees from the persecuted faction.
“We’re definitely looking into the option, and we’re in touch with the army and the leaders of the Druze community,” Zeltz said.
“We have indoor sport halls and 11 schools that could host refugees, along with medical equipment and baby-related supplies. It’s a humanitarian gesture,” he said.
On Sunday, the head of Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tari, along with a slew of Druze leaders, toured the Golan Heights border zone with officers of the IDF’s Northern Command.
“These are tense times, and it was important for us to see our brothers in Hader to check that at least for now, there is quiet and security there,” Tarif said, referring to a Syrian-Druze village underneath Mount Hermon abutting the Israeli border.
In 2013, Druze in 14 northern Syria villages were forced to convert to Islam by Islamic State fighters.