Police arrest Druze who tried to cross into Syria to help brethren
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Army sends more troops to Golan as Druze gather at border

Police arrest Druze who tried to cross into Syria to help brethren

Seven suspected of damaging security fence while rushing to respond after Syrian Druze village of Hader hit by suicide bombing

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community's flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community's flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Police on Tuesday arrested seven residents of Druze villages in the Israeli Golan Heights who broke through the separation fence with Syria last week, trying to reach the Druze village of Hader after a deadly suicide bombing.

On Friday, a member of the Fateh al-Sham Front, a Syrian rebel group with reported ties to Al-Qaeda, detonated a car bomb in Hader, which supports Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens more.

A short while later, a group of men and boys from the Israeli Druze villages of Majdal Shams and Ein Qiniyye rushed to the security fence separating Israel from Syria in an apparent attempt to reach Hader.

Some of them managed to break through the fence, but were stopped by Israeli soldiers and returned to Israel, the army said.

Early Tuesday morning, police officers arrested five men and two minors suspected of being in the group that rushed the security fence.

They are accused of rioting, attacking police officers and soldiers, damaging the security fence and entering the restricted buffer zone between Israel and Syria, police said.

Police said the suspects’ actions “threatened the lives of residents and soldiers in the area.”

Israeli soldiers close a road near the border in the Golan Heights in order to prevent Druze residents from crossing into Syria after a suicide bombing in the Druze Syrian village of Hader on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The suspects are scheduled to be brought before a judge in a Kiryat Shmona court in the next 24 hours in order to keep them in custody, police said.

According to the army, dozens of Druze residents took part in the riot and approximately 10 broke through the fence.

It was not immediately clear if police intended to make further arrests.

“There is still an ongoing investigation,” a police spokesperson said.

After the attack in Hader, Israel pledged support for the Druze village, including promises to protect it.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat also met with the head of Israel’s Druze community, Mowafaq Tarif, and assured him that Israel would not allow jihadis to take over the Syrian village.

Tarif met with the head of the IDF’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, in order to hear about the army’s plans to defend Hader, the military said.

The head of the IDF’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, meets with the head of Israel’s Druze community, Mowafaq Tarif, and other Druze leaders in northern Israel on November 3, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in London on a state visit, released a statement of support for the Druze.

“We will safeguard our borders, our southern border and our northern border. And we recognize the amity we feel toward our brothers, the Druze,” he said.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis also denied a claim by the Syrian government that Israel was involved in or had supported the suicide bombing in Hader.

The statement was out of the ordinary, as Israel generally maintains that it will not get involved in the fighting in Syria unless one of its “red lines” is violated, namely that it is targeted first or if advanced weapons are being transported through Syrian territory to the Hezbollah terrorist group.

Adding to the complication is Hader’s support for Assad, who is allied with Iran, Israel’s nemesis, and Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah.

The Druze community in Israel exerts pressure on Israeli leaders to help their coreligionists across the border who are often caught in the crossfire between Sunni rebels and Alawite and Shiite pro-government forces.

Druze men in the Israeli Golan Heights congregate near the Syrian border, waving their community’s flag, after they heard about a suicide bombing in the Syrian Druze village of Hadar, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Israel’s commitment to the Druze is rooted in the loyalty of the community to the state, including the Arabic-speaking minority’s insistence on participating in the military draft. However, the Druze on the Golan maintain strained ties with Jerusalem, as many of them consider themselves Syrian and do not take Israeli citizenship, as they do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which was captured by the IDF in the 1967 Six Day War.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the jihadist fighter detonated the bomb Friday morning on the outskirts of Hader, in the northern countryside of Quneitra near the Israeli border.

Smokes billows from the southern Syrian Druze village of Hadar after a suicide bombing that killed nine, on November 3, 2017. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

“A suicide bomber from Al-Nusra Front detonated a car bomb in the midst of the homes of citizens on the outskirts of Hader, killing nine people and injuring at least 23,” the agency said.

Al-Nusra Front is the former name of the jihadist group that was once Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and is now known as the Fateh al-Sham Front.

“In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, terrorist groups carried out a heavy attack on Hader, and army units and the Popular Defense units (pro-government militias) clashed with the attackers,” SANA added.

Spillover fire from the Friday morning clashes also lightly injured a resident of the Israeli Druze town of Majdal Shams, the IDF said in a statement. The man was injured by small arms fire from across the border and was treated by paramedics at the scene.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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