Syria’s Druze minority: walking a war-time tightrope

A group of Druze women and children, abducted in July from Sweida by the Daesh group, being welcomed by relatives upon their arrival overnight in their hometown in the southern Syrian province of Sweida. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 November 2018

Syria’s Druze minority: walking a war-time tightrope

  • Daesh began attacking Sweida province in 2015, first targeting Khalkhalah military airport
  • Syria’s Druze have protected their heartland in Sweida with their own forces

BEIRUT: Syria’s Druze minority, whose men are being called up for military service by Damascus, is struggling to insulate itself from the conflict that has engulfed the country since 2011.
Here is a summary of the community’s profile, its role in Syria’s conflict and the attacks it has faced.

The Druze community accounted for around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million.
They are located mainly in the southern province of Sweida with smaller pockets around Damascus and in the northwest, although some have fled militant-held parts of the latter area.
Druze are monotheistic and considered Muslim, but the sect is otherwise highly secretive, includes mystical elements such as reincarnation, and does not allow new converts.
Some 200,000 Druze are located in neighboring Lebanon and over 100,000 are in Israel, while 18,000 live in the Israeli-occupied Golan.

Syria’s Druze have been split by the uprising that erupted in 2011 against President Bashar Assad, who had long portrayed himself as a protector of the country’s minorities.
Druze should not be seen “as being neutral in this war — it’s more multifaceted and the Druze are not a monolithic bloc,” said Tobias Lang, an analyst focused on Druze populations in the Middle East.
One of the first soldiers to defect from Syria’s army in protest at its handling of demonstrations was Druze officer Khaldun Zeineddine, who later died in clashes against regime forces.
Others remained firmly loyal, like General Issam Zahreddine, one of the highest-ranking Druze army officers who died last year in a mine blast after battling the Daesh group in Syria’s east.
Druze leaders have often tried to maintain a relationship with the regime to keep their areas autonomous and spare them from government attacks.
One symbol of that complex relationship was Wahid Al-Balous, a Druze religious authority who pushed for the sect’s soldiers to be deployed near their hometowns, rather than in other provinces.
Balous, who died in a car bomb attack in Sweida in 2015, spoke out against both militants and Assad.

Syria’s Druze have protected their heartland in Sweida with their own forces.
The most powerful has been the Sheikhs of Dignity, which was headed by Balous and included fighters and other religious figures.
Sheikhs of Dignity has fought fierce battles against the Daesh group and Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.
Other militias have been closely linked to the regime, including the Dareh Al-Watan (Shield of the Nation), a Druze force founded in April 2015 with 2,000 fighters.
Such groups appear to have protected Sweida’s sons from compulsory military service, with authorities turning a blind eye so long as young men fight in units not opposed to the regime.
But with the regime hungry for fresh conscripts, that deal appears to be coming apart at the seams and Assad has now called on young Druze men to serve.
His appeal came after Damascus announced the release this month of Druze women and children who had been kidnapped during a July attack by Daesh.

That onslaught by the militants left more than 260 people dead, mostly civilians. It was the worst attack against the minority so far but not the first.
A car bomb in 2012 ripped through Damascus’ Jaramana suburb, which is mostly Druze and Christian.
In 2013 and 2014, fierce fighting between Syrian rebels and pro-regime Druze forces rocked Sweida province and Druze areas closer to Damascus.
Daesh began attacking Sweida province in 2015, first targeting Khalkhalah military airport.
The same year, 20 Druze Syrians were killed in a shoot-out with Al-Qaeda militants in the village of Qalb Lawzah in northwestern Idlib province.
Druze residents of Qalb Lawzah had come out against the regime a year into Syria’s uprising.
In 2016, Daesh beheaded four laborers in an area it controlled outside Damascus, accusing them of being Druze.
And in 2017, a car bomb killed nine people in Hader, a regime-held village in the southwestern province of Quneitra mostly populated by Druze.

Full text of joint statement on UAE and Israel normalizing ties

Updated 40 sec ago

Full text of joint statement on UAE and Israel normalizing ties

ABU DHABI: US President Donald J. Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, spoke Thursday and agreed to the full normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE.

This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the UAE and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region. All three countries face many common challenges and will mutually benefit from today’s historic achievement.

Delegations from Israel and the UAE will meet in the coming weeks to sign bilateral agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications, technology, energy, healthcare, culture, the environment, the establishment of reciprocal embassies, and other areas of mutual benefit. Opening direct ties between two of the Middle East's most dynamic societies and advanced economies will transform the region by spurring economic growth, enhancing technological innovation, and forging closer people-to-people relations.

As a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the UAE, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty over areas outlined in the President’s Vision for Peace and focus its efforts now on expanding ties with other countries in the Arab and Muslim world. The US Israel and the UAE are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together to achieve this goal.

The UAE and Israel will immediately expand and accelerate cooperation regarding the treatment of and the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. Working together, these efforts will help save Muslim, Jewish, and Christian lives throughout the region.

This normalisation of relations and peaceful diplomacy will bring together two of America’s most reliable and capable regional partners. Israel and the UAE will join with the US to launch a Strategic Agenda for the Middle East to expand diplomatic, trade, and security cooperation. Along with the US, Israel and the UAE share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability through diplomatic engagement, increased economic integration, and closer security coordination. Today’s agreement will lead to better lives for the peoples of the UAE, Israel, and the region.

The United States and Israel recall with gratitude the appearance of the UAE at the White House reception held on January 28, 2020, at which President Trump presented his Vision for Peace, and express their appreciation for UAE’s related supportive statements. The parties will continue their efforts in this regard to achieve a just, comprehensive and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As set forth in the Vision for Peace, all Muslims who come in peace may visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and Jerusalem’s other holy sites should remain open for peaceful worshippers of all faiths.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan express their deep appreciation to President Trump for his dedication to peace in the region and to the pragmatic and unique approach he has taken to achieve it.