An Israeli court charged two Druze from the Golan Heights with murder Monday in the mob killing of a Syrian rebel who was being taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment.
The grisly attack in June highlighted the anger and suspicion among Israel’s Druze that Israeli hospitals may be treating Islamists who are attacking Druze villages in Syria.
Bashira Mahmoud, 48, and Amal Abu Salah, 21, were allegedly among a mob of residents from the village of Majdal Shams who attacked an Israeli military ambulance as it wound through the hairpin turns of the village at night in late June, according to the indictment, which was issued by the Nazareth District Court.
The ambulance carried two Syrians, Munzer Halil and Ala Shaaban, who suffered gunshot wounds to their lower bodies. The mob shattered the ambulance windows, dragged the two Syrians to the asphalt and bludgeoned them.
Abu Salah is accused of battering Halil with a board and of pounding a stone into his hip. Mahmoud is also accused of hurling a stone at Halil’s upper body. Halil died of his wounds; Shaaban is still recovering from a cracked skull and other injuries in an Israeli hospital after numerous operations.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said 27 other suspects in the killing were arrested and later released. Police are still investigating several of them, she said.
Israel offers humanitarian assistance to Syrians but does not check whether they belong to secular, Islamist, or regime forces. The assistance is partly a goodwill gesture and partly a tactic to give Israel contacts across Syria’s unraveling society, according to Yoram Schweitzer, a counterterrorism expert at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
The Druze sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam that dates to the 10th century. Its members in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, where they swear allegiance to the national government and serve in the army. Nearly all of the men among the 110,000 Druze citizens of Israel do military service.
An additional 20,000 Druze live in the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967; Druze in the Golan largely maintain Syrian citizenship in protest of Israeli rule.
The crumbling of President Bashar Assad’s government has left the Druze in Syria vulnerable to attacks from Sunni Muslim extremists, who see Druze as both heretics and enemy soldiers.
In the weeks before the slaying outside Majdal Shams, members of the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, slaughtered 20 Syrian Druze in the province of Idlib and surrounded the Druze village of Hader in southern Syria.
Druze across Israel and the Golan protested the attacks on their brethren in Syria, raised more than $2 million to pay for weapons, and lambasted Israel for treating Syrian Islamists in its hospitals.
After the attack in June, Majdal Shams council head Dolan Abu Saleh walked his town’s streets and parks, urging local youths to use better judgment.
“We condemn completely these outbursts,” he told McClatchy. “ The result can really bring problems to the Druze on the other side.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the Druze to avoid vigilante acts.
“We are a country of law and are not a part of the anarchy that is spreading around us,” he said.
Israel has sworn it will not allow a Druze genocide, but it has provided few specifics on how it would be able to help Druze inside Syria.
Cheslow is a McClatchy special correspondent.