The Israeli Defense Forces denied that the military provides medical treatment to Syrian jihadi fighters from the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front, hours after an Israeli military ambulance transporting wounded Syrians in the Golan Heights was violently attacked by local Druze residents Sunday night, killing one of the Syrians.
IDF spokesman Motti Almoz said Israel “has not provided aid to the Nusra Front over the past four years, since the civil war in Syria began.”
“We help wounded Syrians who arrive at our border and give them medical treatment,” he said after the attack which he described as “very grave.”
“We are appealing for calm and we wish those injured a speedy recovery,” Almoz said.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot convened an emergency meeting over the incident, saying it was “inconceivable that IDF soldiers and [Syrian] wounded are attacked.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also condemned the attack late Monday, warning that the state would not let residents “take the law into their own hands.”
Some Druze villagers on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights have charged in recent weeks that Israel gives medical treatment to fighters, including jihadists, who then go back and may be involved in fighting or killing their brethren on the Syrian side.
Druze in Israel have held several rallies over the past weeks to pressure the government to intervene on behalf of the Druze community in Syria, which they fear is under an onslaught by jihadi rebels fighting the Bashar Assad regime.
The attack on the military ambulance Monday was the second such attack in a day. Israeli media reports characterized the incident as a lynch, in which two IDF soldiers were also lightly injured.
A mob of people, apparently thinking the ambulance could be carrying a Syrian jihadist rebel, attacked the ambulance, being escorted by an army jeep, near the town of Majdal Shams. The convoy made its way to the nearby town of Neve Ativ, but was also met with resistance there by Druze who followed the ambulance, according to an Army Radio report.
Police said, without elaborating, that there were a number of people hurt in the attack by “residents of Golan villages.”
The forces stated that there was a large police presence at the scene, which was located between the Druze town of Majdal Shams and Kiryat Shmona.
Pictures from the scene of the attack showed the ambulance windshield smashed by rocks and other heavy damage.
Israel routinely takes in and treats Syrians injured in the civil war, and the IDF has set up a field hospital along the border, though it transports more serious cases to hospitals elsewhere in the country, without prejudice to which side of the civil war the injured was fighting on.
The Druze, a mystic sect that broke away from Shiite Islam in the 11th century, are ideologically loyal to the countries in which they reside. Israel’s Druze speak Hebrew and many serve in the IDF.
However, residents of the four Druze villages in the Golan Heights, which was captured by Israel in 1967, remain outwardly loyal to the Syrian regime and have mostly refused to accept Israeli citizenship.
Druze are considered heretical to Sunni Islam, and have been targeted by the radical al-Nusra Front and Islamic State groups.
Since at least 20 Druze were killed earlier this month by al-Nusra near the Turkish border, their Israeli counterparts have become more forceful in pressuring Jerusalem to find a solution to their plight.
The Israeli government has been monitoring the situation and mulling a number of proposals to aid the embattled group, including the creation of a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.
Another such proposal involves a number of Jewish towns in northern Israel that may absorb Druze refugees fleeing the war, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday.
On Sunday, the head of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, along with a slew of Druze leaders, toured the Golan Heights border zone with officers of the IDF’s Northern Command.
“These are tense times, and it was important for us to see our brothers in Hader to check that at least for now, there is quiet and security there,” Tarif said, referring to a Syrian-Druze village underneath Mount Hermon abutting the Israeli border.
In 2013, Druze in 14 northern Syria villages were forced to convert to Islam by Islamic State fighters.