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Israel pledges crackdown over Druze 'lynching' of Syrian

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to find Druze villagers who dragged a Syrian from an ambulance in the Golan Heights and beat him to death. The Druze minority in Syria has been targeted by jihadist rebels.

Netanyahu described the late Monday attack, which left one Syrian dead and another seriously injured, as "very severe." Two Israeli soldiers were also injured.

"We will find those who carried out the lynching and bring them to justice," he said on Tuesday.

"We are a country of law, not part of the anarchy spreading around us," he added.

The incident took place Monday night near the Druze village of Majdal Shams, in the Golan Heights area occupied by Israel since 1967.

According to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, villagers stoned the white military ambulance which had been headed to a hospital, broke the windshield and dragged the two Syrians outside, where they were beaten.

A similar attack was reported the previous night, but the ambulance managed to pull away.

Israel has a policy of providing humanitarian assistance to wounded Syrians who ask for help after crossing the border. This has sparked anger among some of the Druze community, who suspect that rebel extremists in Syria have been taking advantage of that policy.

Between rebels and regime

The Druze minority observe an offshoot teaching of Shiite Islam, and have been increasingly targeted by Sunni extremists fighting in Syria. Tensions have been especially high since rebels surrounded a Druze village on the Syrian side of Golan Heights last week.

In addition to some 110,000 Druze in northern Israel and another 20,000 in the Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, Druze minorities also live in Syria and Lebanon, as well in small communities in other Middle Eastern countries.

The Druze community enjoys traditionally close relations with Israel's Jewish majority, with many of them serving in the military. In Syria, Druze are

aligned with the Assad regime

.

The Israeli army announced that the men transported in the ambulance on Monday were civilians, contrasting earlier media reports that had referred to the patients as "rebels."

'Heroic' people

Druze leaders condemned the deadly violence in an emergency meeting Tuesday.

"This is not our way; we are pained by what happened," Sheikh Muafak Tarif, the spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze, told the AFP news agency. He called the attack "a deplorable act committed by outlaws."

"The Druze religion, values and tradition prohibit inflicting any harm on wounded people," he added.

Syrian media praised the attackers, calling them "heroic young men" and accusing the patient of

belonging to Nusra Front

.

Syrian state news agency SANA said the Druze had inflicted "the punishment on them for their participation in the aggression on the mother homeland, Syria, and its people."

dj/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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