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Two Druze Charged With Lynch-Killing of Wounded Syrian Man in Israel

One of the two Druze suspects charged with the lynch-killing of a Syrian man dragged from an Israeli ambulance says she was enraged after her relatives were raped and killed by militants across the border.
August 10, 2015, 4:14pm
Photo via EPA

Two members of Israel's Druze community have been charged with murder six weeks after an angry mob ambushed an Israeli ambulance and lynched two Syrian men inside, killing one and badly injuring another.

According to Israeli police, video footage of the killing shows the 21-year-old man, Amal Abu Salah, "striking" the victim's upper body with a rock, and the 48-year-old woman, Bashira Mahmoud, "mercilessly beating him" with a wooden plank "deliberately causing his death."

A crowd of around 150 people set upon the vehicle near the town of Majdal Shams, north of the Golan Heights, on June 22, breaking the vehicle's windshield and bringing it to a halt by throwing stones. "The rioters beat the two wounded men while they were lying on the ground using wooden boards, sticks, stones, and metal chains, and kicked them over every part of their bodies," a statement by the Israeli police force describing the attack said. "When the rioters thought they had managed to kill the wounded Syrians, they began to leave the area, but then they realized [the Syrians] were still alive and returned to kill them."

Related: Syrian State Media Praises Druze 'Lynch Mob' Attack on Israeli Ambulance

Salah and Mahmoud, who appeared at a Nazareth District Court on Monday, were among some 30 suspects arrested in the wake of the attack but are the only two to have been indicted so far.

Around 130,000 Druze, who practice an offshoot of Shiite Islam, live in Israel. The community can be broadly divided into two groups. The vast majority live in the Galilee area, hold Israeli citizenship, speak Hebrew, and complete military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). In contrast, the Druze living in the Golan Heights number approximately 20,000, and tend to see themselves as Syrian with only 10 percent having accepted an Israeli passport.

Over the last year Israel has provided medical care to a growing number of wounded and sick Syrians in Ziv medical centre, west of the Golan Heights. Up to 90 percent of the patients brought across the border by the IDF are male. While some patients are treated for illnesses such as cancer, many more are treated for so-called "frontline injuries," such as shrapnel and gunshot wounds. Around 70 to 80 percent are believed to be combatants, according to doctors.

Related: Inside the Hospital Where Israeli Doctors Treat Syrian Patients

In the days prior to the lethal attack on the ambulance, anger among the Golan Druze, who are vocal supporters of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, flared over rumors that rebel fighters, who had attacked their kinsman across the border, were bring treated in Israeli hospitals. In June at least 20 Druze villagers from the town of Qalb Lawzah in northwestern Idlib were massacred by Jabhat al Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, whose fighters then surrounded Hada — a Syrian Druze town visible with binoculars from the Israeli border.

Israeli authorities have denied that fighters from extremist factions are among those being treated, but doctors at the hospital say many of the patients brought in from Syria are in such a critical condition it is impossible to tell which faction they are with.

"It doesn't matter to us if it's Hezbollah or Nusra or ISIS, for us it's all the same," one insider at Ziv hospital told VICE News.

Related: Israel Vows to Prevent Massacre of Syrian Druze After Islamist Rebels Surround Village Near Golan Heights

According to police the female defendant, Mahmoud, had said that members of her family still inside Syria had been killed and raped by al Nusra and Islamic State fighters. "How would you have reacted?" she reportedly asked the investigators during questioning.

Police have said that inquiries into the lynch-killing are still ongoing and more suspects may yet be charged.

Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem