EIN QINIYE — Hundreds of Druze in the Israeli Golan Heights marched Tuesday — Syrian Independence Day — in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and in protest over Western airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites.
An AFP journalist said that more than 500 people waving Syrian flags and carrying portraits of Assad took part in the rally in the village of Ein Qiniye, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the Syrian-controlled part of the heights.
They chanted “Bashar defeated the terrorists” and “Bashar beat the American bombers,” referring to US-led strikes over the weekend in which British and French forces participated.
Israeli officials say there are about 20,000 Druze on the 1,200 square kilometer (460 square mile) strategic plateau which Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and formally annexed in 1981 in a move not recognized by the international community.
Israel and Syria are still officially in a state of war.
Living alongside some 20,000 Israelis, the vast majority of the Golan Druze retain Syrian nationality and have family ties to Druze in Syrian government-controlled territory.
Another 110,000 Druze live in the Galilee district of northern Israel, where most have Israeli nationality and perform compulsory military service, unlike other Arab citizens.