An Israeli military ambulance transporting wounded Syrian fighters for medical care in the Golan Heights was violently attacked by local Druze residents on Monday evening, killing one of the Syrians.
The incident was the second such attack in a day. Israeli media reports characterized the attack as a lynch.
The two Syrians being transported were brought into the country in serious condition and were then further hurt in the attack. Police said one of the fighters died of his wounds and the second man was in critical condition.
Two Israeli soldiers were also lightly injured in the incident.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attack late Monday, warning that the state would not let residents “take the law into their own hands.”
“We will not let [residents] interfere with IDF soldiers’ duty to carry out their missions,” said the PM.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot convened an emergency meeting over the incident.
“It’s inconceivable that IDF soldiers and [Syrian] wounded are attacked by Israeli citizens,” he told the media.
Pictures from the scene of the attack showed the ambulance windshield smashed by rocks and other heavy damage.
הדרוזים ביצעו לינץ בפצועים הסורים. התמונות קשות. מצבם קשה. pic.twitter.com/98qIcDzYs4
— Guy Varon (@guyvaron) June 22, 2015
The attack was apparently carried out by Druze villagers angry over Syrian jihadists’ advance on Druze areas in the Syrian Golan.
A mob of people, apparently thinking the ambulance could be carrying a Syrian jihadist rebel, attacked the ambulance, being escorted by an army jeep, near the town of Majdal Shams. The convoy made its way to the nearby town of Neve Ativ, but was also met with resistance there by Druze who followed the ambulance, according to an Army Radio report.
Police said, without elaborating, that there were a number of people hurt in the attack by “residents of Golan villages.”
The forces stated that there was a large police presence at the scene, which was located between the Druze town of Majdal Shams and Kiryat Shmona.
Earlier Monday, an army ambulance was pelted with stones in the Israeli-Druze village of Hurfeish by locals who believed that it may be 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 a 54-year-old local man was left injured, apparently after he was hit by the military vehicle.
Police say ambulance on way from Majdal Shams to Kiryat Shmona when attacked. Confirm injuries (photo still not mine) pic.twitter.com/P6mehrNhfc
— Joshua Davidovich (@JMDavido) June 22, 2015
Israel routinely takes in and treats Syrians injured in the civil war, and the Israel Defense Forces has set up a field hospital along the border, though it transports more serious cases to hospitals elsewhere in the country, without prejudice to which side of the civil war the injured was fighting on.
Druze in Israel have held several rallies over the past weeks to pressure the government to intervene on behalf of the Druze community in Syria, which they fear is under an onslaught by jihadi rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime.
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.”
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 was 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 near 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 Ahronoth reported Monday.
In the event that members of the minority group flee or are uprooted from their homes in Syria by jihadist organizations, the Upper Galilee Regional Council — consisting of 29 kibbutzim — may take them in.
Council head Giora Zeltz said that background checks were still being made, but that the necessary infrastructure and equipment exists to absorb evacuees from the persecuted minority.
“We’re definitely looking into the option, and we’re in touch with the army and the leaders of the Druze community,” Zeltz added.
“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 continued.
On Sunday, the head of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, 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.