Syrian Druze call on community members to defect from army

Syrian Druze call on community members to defect from army

Leaders also tell coreligionists living on the Golan Heights to keep noses out of Syria’s business

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Druze community leaders in northern Israel (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Druze community leaders in northern Israel (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Leaders of the Druze community in Syria on Saturday called on Druze soldiers to leave the army of President Bashar Assad, claiming it has betrayed its defensive mission and has become a tool of destruction.

They also called on Druze living on the Golan Heights in Israel, who have traditionally backed the Assad leadership, to keep from mixing in the conflict, saying they are far from the action.

A statement issued in the predominantly Druze southwestern province of Sweida, by religious leaders representing a group called “the descendants of Ammar bin Yasser,” asserted that the province will from now on be considered a safe haven for all Syrians, where no fighting will be permitted.

The Druze of Syria, a minority numbering 500,000, have largely stayed clear of the popular uprising that erupted in March 2011. But community leaders — most notably Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt — recently begun calling on their coreligionists to take a stand and join the rebel forces.

“We call on all of our children to leave the army and return immediately to Sweida with no delay or excuse, and with no distinction between soldier and officer, volunteer and reservist,” read the statement, drafted at the grave of Shihan, a Druze saint.

“When they joined the army, they went to defend the nation, but today the army protects leaders who kill our nation’s children and make no distinction between fighter and protected civilian,” the statement continued.

The text went on to warn the Druze against carrying arms of any kind and spreading “disaccord and false rumors,” threatening violators with total boycott and isolation from the community.

The statement ended with a harsh critique of Druze living on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, who have traditionally taken a pro-Assad stance.

“You are far from the facts on the ground and do not really know what is happening in Syria,” read the statement. “Therefore, we ask you not to comment on what is happening.”

On Sunday, anti-Assad Druze living on the Golan Heights sent a letter to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz, asking them to allow seven injured Syrians who were let into Israel on Saturday and who are being treated in an Israeli hospital to remain in the country following their release from hospital.

“I expect the Israeli authorities to act according to the values of the Jewish people in this matter,” one Druze lawyer wrote.

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