Israel arrested nine Druze Wednesday over two attacks, one of them fatal, on ambulances bringing casualties from Syria’s civil war to Israeli hospitals, security sources said Wednesday.
Monday’s attacks in northern Israel and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights drew strong censure from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government is trying to prevent a spillover of sectarianism from Syria while offering limited humanitarian aid.
Inflamed by media reports suggesting some of the hundreds of wounded Syrians who have been admitted to Israel for medical care belong to militant groups fighting the Druze in Syria, the crowds of Druze blocked two army ambulances for inspection.
One ambulance managed to escape with crew and patients unharmed. In the other, a Syrian casualty was killed and another seriously wounded in what Israeli officials described as a lynching. Two troops accompanying them were also injured.
The official Syrian news agency SANA Tuesday described those behind the lethal ambulance attack as “heroic Syrian young men” and alleged they had targeted wounded insurgents from the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Israel’s stated policy is to offer medical treatment to Syrians irrespective of possible affiliation to armed groups, and insisted that the wounded Syrians were civilians.
Druze leaders have pressed Israel to take a more active role in the Syrian war, but Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reiterated that no internal pressures or acts of violence would “drag us into a war that is not ours.”
“We will continue to provide humanitarian aid to women, children ,and wounded people who reach the field hospital we set up along the border in the wake of the difficult situation,” he said at an IT security conference in Tel Aviv.
Israel does not rule out the possibility that some of those given medical care are rebels.
Netanyahu has described the Golan Heights killing as a “lynching” and met Wednesday with local Druze leaders, who roundly condemned the attack.
He urged leaders to “continue to act to ensure the security of the state, and to allow soldiers to carry out their duties,” according to a statement released after the meeting.
“We need to protect our country from the chaos unfolding around us,” he said.
The spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze, Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, was quoted in the same statement as condemning the ambulance attack, which he said was “contrary to Druze values.”
Druze communal and spiritual leaders from Israel and the Golan mobilized to stem further flare-ups, issuing an edict Tuesday warning any Druze engaging in such violence that they risked ostracism from the close-knit sect.
Israeli security sources said nine suspects were arrested Wednesday in connection with the ambulance attacks. A police spokeswoman said the arrests took place within the Druze communities in Israel and the occupied Golan.