Protests and violence as Druze in Golan vote in local elections
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Protests and violence as Druze in Golan vote in local elections

Community largely boycotts polls citing allegiance to Syria, with stun grenade thrown at voting station in Yarka; poll is also controversial in East Jerusalem

Israeli security forces stand guard as Druze men protest against municipal elections in front of a polling center in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on October 30, 2018. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)
Israeli security forces stand guard as Druze men protest against municipal elections in front of a polling center in the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on October 30, 2018. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

As Israelis voted in local elections Tuesday, controversial first-time polls in Druze communities in the Golan Heights drew protests and attacks on polling stations.

Polling stations opened as scheduled at 7:00 a.m. and were due to close at 10:00 p.m. Main results were not expected until Wednesday.

A significant new element to the vote saw minority Druze cast ballots in the Golan Heights for the first time since Israel seized the strategic region from Syria in 1967.

In the Druze areas of the Golan only a few hundred people had cast ballots by 8 p.m, contrasted with a national average of over 50 percent turnout.

The vote was controversial since many Druze who feel connected to Syria fear it will help Israel legitimize its control over the region.

Druze residents of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights set ablaze makeshift ballot papers during a protest on October 19, 2018. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Several hundred protesters in the village of Majdal Shams, some carrying Syrian flags, temporarily blocked a polling center as police sought to maintain calm, an AFP correspondent reported.

There had been calls to boycott the election during campaigning and a string of candidates pulled out.

Polling was to occur in four Druze villages in the Golan, though it was called off in two because there were no candidates.

The elections followed a court challenge by a group of Druze who pressed for the right to hold the vote.

Israel has previously appointed local leaders in the villages.

In Yarka, a separate Druze village in northern Israel outside of the Golan, police said two polling stations were closed after a stun grenade was thrown at one of them, lightly wounding 10 people.

There is similar controversy in East Jerusalem, which Israel also captured in 1967 and later annexed, though there were no reports of incidents there.

Unlike in national elections, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who have not taken Israeli citizenship are eligible to vote in local polls.

But the vast majority stay away, refusing to recognize Israel’s control over the sector of the city they see as the capital of their future state.

Some 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem.

A Palestinian prepares to cast her vote during local elections on October 30, 2018, in Shuafat, East Jerusalem. (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Israel sees the entire city as its capital, a claim buoyed by US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

Among the few Palestinians in the race is Ramadan Dabash, who heads a list of 12 Arab candidates running for seats on the city council.

He has Israeli citizenship — rare among Jerusalem Palestinians — and is a former member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.

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