Israeli Army Vows to Protect Syrian Druze from ‘Massacre’

Israel pledged Tuesday to protect any refugees who fled towards the Jewish state after a rebel offensive in Syria and Islamist violence there raised fears about the Druze minority's safety.

A significant number of Druze live in Israel, and leading members of the community have called on the government to help their brethren in Syria following the recent violence.

Without mentioning the Druze, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said the authorities were preparing for a possible influx of Syrian refugees and would prevent a potential massacre at the border.

"The reality in the Golan Heights, where internal fighting is near the border with Israel, is of great concern to us, including the possibility we might have to deal with refugees from Syria arriving at the border," Eizenkot told a parliamentary committee, his words conveyed by a spokesman.

"We will take measures to prevent a situation where refugees are massacred. Our action would be humanitarian," he was quoted as saying.

The spokesman said Eizenkot was referring to areas adjacent to the border on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights.

Druze leaders in Israel, including MK Ayoub Kara of the ruling Likud party, have appealed to the government to step in.

Officials say there are 110,000 Druze in the Galil region of northern Israel, and another 20,000 in the Israeli Golan Heights.

The Druze, followers of a secretive offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, made up around 3% of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million people. They are concentrated mostly in the southern province of Sweida, the only Druze-majority region of Syria, but there are several Druze villages in other parts of the country, including in Idlib and on the eastern slopes of the Golan.

On Wednesday, at least 20 Druze were killed in an unprecedented shoot-out with Al Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front in northwestern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syrian rebels on Thursday seized most of a military airport in regime-controlled Sweida province, their first such advance in the region.

IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz had declared the situation in the northern Golan "quiet" and under "full control."

But later on Tuesday, the army declared the area near the northeastern border of the Golan Heights a closed military zone, limiting access to residents of the area only.

Security sources said this was not because of violence in Syria but to prevent disturbances to routine IDF activity in the area from the Israeli side, where Druze have said they would cross the border to protect their brethren in Syria.

AFP contributed to this report.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/196834

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