Israel has this week pledged to protect refugees fleeing towards Israel from Syria, after an offensive by Islamist rebels has raised fears about the Druze minority’s safety. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “closely following what is happening close to our borders,” and that he had “given instructions to do what is necessary.”
On Wednesday, rebels surrounded the Druze village of Khadr on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line on the Golan Heights, after heavy fighting mainly between Free Syrian Army and Assad regime forces. The village is currently held by the Syrian government.
Rami Abdel Rahman, Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said on Wednesday: “Khadr is now totally surrounded by rebels, who just took a strategic hilltop north of the village”.
Rahman added: “The regime has not sent reinforcements yet, but the Druze villagers are standing with the government”.
Leaders of Israel’s 130,000-strong Druze community, including Ayub Kara, a member of parliament with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, have appealed to the government to step in.
The encirclement of Khadr comes amid rising fears in Syria’s Druze community. At least 20 Druze were killed in an unprecedented shoot-out with Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front in northwestern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Druze community has been somewhat divided during the war, with some members fighting on the side of the Syrian government and others expressing sympathy for the opposition. Officials say there are 110,000 Druze in northern Israel, and another 20,000 in the Israeli-held Golan.
The Druze make up around 3% of Syria’s population.