Israel weighs ‘safe zone’ for Syria’s embattled Druze

Military says no intention to absorb refugees, but memory of Holocaust requires action to avert ‘mass genocide’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, in the village of Julis in northern Israel. April 25, 2013. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, in the village of Julis in northern Israel. April 25, 2013. (Moshe Milner/GPO)

Israel is mulling the creation of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights in order to aid Druze refugees, an Israeli news site reported on Sunday.

The Jewish state has been in contact with a number of countries, the UN and the International Red Cross about the creation of such a humanitarian zone, security sources told Walla.

The possibility is being given serious attention following the massacre of over 20 Druze in northern Syria by the rebel al-Nusra Front last week.

“There is no intention to absorb Druze refugees into Israel, but as a people that experienced the Holocaust, we have no intention of ignoring the possibility of a mass genocide of the Druze minority,” a senior source told Walla.

The majority of Syrian Druze live in and around the southern province of Sweida in a region also known as Jabal al-Druze, or Mount Druze, close to the Israeli border. Tens of thousands of their brethren live in Israel.

Hundreds of members of Israel’s Druze minority demonstrated in Yarka in northern Israel on Sunday, calling on the international community to help their coreligionists in Syria

The spiritual leader of the Druze in Israel, Sheikh Mowafk Tarif, told Israel’s Channel 2 that he fears for Syria’s Druze with the Islamic State and other extremists in their vicinity and called on the US to help.

“Non-involvement in Syria will result in a Druze holocaust under our very noses, and who like Israel knows what a holocaust and genocide is,” Druze Zionist Council head Atta Farhat wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, according to Channel 10.

Netanyahu last week urged US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to boost American aid to Syria’s increasingly embattled Druze minority, a Haaretz report said Saturday. President Reuven Rivlin also reportedly told the general there is a “threat to the very existence of half a million Druze on the Mount of Druze” in Syria, according to Reuters.

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So far, Israel’s government has balked at intervening directly, though increased calls from the community, including the demonstration Saturday, indicate Israeli Druze are more eager for Jerusalem to intervene in the conflict.

“There has been no decision regarding an Israeli response should the Druze be attacked,” a senior military source told The Times of Israel last month. “We do not want to see a change in the status quo in the north.”

Last month, the leader of the Islamist rebel al-Nusra Front group, Abu Muhammad al-Golani, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that proselytizers had been sent by his group to Druze villages to “inform them of the doctrinal pitfalls they have fallen into.”

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the radical Islamic State group currently controls a number of villages in the northeastern parts of the Sweida province.

Mitch Ginsburg and AP contributed to this report.

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