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Druze Want Israeli Protection from Syrian Islamists.

By VOA News

After recent attacks from Islamist militant rebels, Syria's Druze community is looking to clan leaders in nearby Israel for protection from attacks in Syria's civil war. "Druze in Israel are concerned about what's happening to their brothers in Syria," said Sheikh Mouafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel.

The Druze, who are an ancient religious sect with ties to Shi'ite Islam, were split between Israel and Syria following a 1967 war when Israel gained the Golan Heights from Syria.

As Syria's five-year war has unfolded, Israeli Druze have watched as their community in Syria has come under increasing threat, especially from Islamist militants affiliated with the Fateh al-Sham Front, a rebel group battling Syrian troops. The group was formerly known as al-Nusra Front, which was al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria.

Scattered across Syria, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, Druze have nonetheless maintained a strong sense of solidarity. As a religious minority, they have often been persecuted for their faith. Druze make up nearly 2% of Israel's 8 million people.

The Israeli Druze leader Tarif told Israel's public radio that he had demanded the Israeli military intervene on behalf of "the Druze of Syria." He was referring the Druze town of Khader, located on the border between Syria and Israel that has been under siege by rebels recently. But Israel has been careful not to become embroiled in Syria's civil war, and analysts say that will most likely continue despite pressure from Druze leaders.

"I doubt the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] would overtly intervene in Syria unless there was a direct danger to Israeli civilians or interests," said Roei Eisenberg, an Israeli journalist who closely follows Israeli military affairs.

Israel has occasionally attacked targets belonging to the Syrian government and the Lebanese Hizbullah group fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime. Hizbullah is a self-professed enemy of Israel and calls for the extinction of the Jewish state.

"What the Israeli military and air force are doing is to prevent the war spillover in Israel," Avigdor Liebermann, Israel's defense minister, said. The government also said it has aided wounded Syrian civilians living in border areas, allowing them treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Druze in Israel are concerned that any gains for Muslim Sunnis in Syria would result in more persecution for the Druze minority in the country. "Like any other minority group, Druze have grown worried about what's going in Syria," said Fares El Schoufi, a Druze political activist from Syria. "They are vulnerable and afraid of the growing extremism in Syria and elsewhere."

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Publication:Israel Faxx
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Sep 16, 2016
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