Syria's Druze Latest Victims As Sectarian Killing Widens

In recent months, Islamist militants, who have made big gains in Idlib, have forced Druze residents to covert to Sunni Islam.

Published: 12th June 2015 08:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2015 08:17 AM   |  A+A-

Cairo: Syrian rebels linked to al-Qaeda have been accused of killing at least 20 members of the minority Druze sect, raising new fears of religiously motivated deaths in the civil war.

The killings in the town of Qalb Lawzah, in the northwestern Idlib province, were triggered by an argument over a house which Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate, had tried to commandeer.

It marked the deadliest attack against the Druze community, which practises a 10th-century offshoot of Shia Islam.

The Druze, who accounted for 5 per cent of the pre-war population, have so far largely stayed out of the four-year conflict but the massacre, and fighting in the Druze-held area of Sweida in the south, have plunged the community into the front line.

In recent months, Islamist militants, who have made big gains in Idlib, have forced Druze residents to covert to Sunni Islam.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said several elderly residents and a child were among the victims of the killings.

The jihadists captured the village as part of a broad offensive that has seen rebel groups dislodge regime forces from the provincial capital.

"Nusra had already seized the abandoned houses for their men - nobody protested against that. But this owner said no so his relations intervene, beating one militant with a shovel," said Jawad, a local resident who would only give his first name. "Then the jihadists opened fire." Abdul Majeed, a Druze civilian from a neighbouring village, said Nusra fighters used walkie-talkies to call for backup, shooting at passers-by and nearby houses. "None picked up a weapon," he said.

The Telegraph was provided with the names of 23 victims, including one of Jawad's relations, who were buried by sunset on Wednesday.

"We refuse the oppression of any sect of the Syrian people," said Ahmed Kara Ali, a spokesman for Ahrar al-Sham, regarded as one of the more moderate rebel groups. "Those involved must be held accountable."

The Druze are viewed as heretical by the puritanical school of Sunni Islam espoused by al-Qaeda and by Islamic State, whose attempts to advance towards a Druze area of southern Syria have added to concerns.

Thc community has been divided by the country's uprising. Some members have fought alongside the government while others have expressed sympathy for the opposition.

In a rare interview last month, Mohamed al-Golani, al-Nusra's leader said Syria's Druze would not be targeted. But his group has been open in calling for "apostates" to return to the Sunni fold.

Another advance by the Islamist alliance yesterday (Thursday), towards the Druze heartland of Sweida in the south, appeared to increase the likelihood that the group will be drawn deeper into the war, which has left around a quarter of a million people dead and another eight million homeless.

Regime-controlled Sweida has been largely unscathed by the war but a rebel spokesman claimed that his forces had seized most of a military airport there and were carrying out "mopping-up operations against remaining forces".

Sahr Darwish, a Sweida Druze, said he feared for the days ahead. "The situation for Druze is good here for now but we are afraid of the fall of the regime," he said.


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