Ayman Sharrouf

Assad’s Druze
game exposed

The Syrian regime has aimed to sow strife between Druze and Sunnis.

Smoke rises over Syria

Fighting has returned to the Syrian side of Mount Hermon near the border with Lebanon’s Shebaa and Rashaya. Last Friday, 22 Druze were killed in an ambush by Syrian rebels in the town of Arana. The incident passed without the dangerous consequence the Syrian regime has been trying to provoke since the beginning of the revolution — sectarian conflict between the Druze and Sunni communities.


A significant event in terms of the number of dead, the ambush quickly gained attention in Lebanon’s Rashaya-Hasbaya region, where for some time now efforts have been underway to create a rift between the local Druze community and surrounding Sunni areas. This time the reaction was calmer than in the past, which is remarkable considering 22 fatalities in one day constitutes a large number for Syria’s Druze community. The quiet response to the incident shows the prudent wisdom that has begun to be practiced in the area and which looks as if it will strengthen relations between the Druze and their Sunni neighbors.


However, pro-Assad Druze forces could still attempt to take advantage of sectarian fears to achieve the goals of the Syrian regime, which, along with Hezbollah in Lebanon, provides them with funding and support. This makes Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) leader MP Walid Jumblatt’s job hard, especially when it comes to convincing his March 8 Druze rivals—Lebanese Democratic Party chief MP Talal Arslan and former MP Faisal Daoud—to dissociate their community from the fighting ravaging Syria.


Nonetheless, the latest incident looks like it will have positive repercussions, not only for the Rashaya-Hasbaya area and its surroundings, but also for the Druze villages on the Syrian side of the border. A leading official from the PSP told Al-Modon that the Syrian army had “pushed a group of Druze from the National Defense Forces into the battle of Arana and left them without any support to die in an ambush by the armed opposition.”


The official added that “this story is documented and known by prominent figures in Syrian Druze areas. Two NDF members came forward after surviving the ambush and confirmed that the story was true. The regime intentionally left them to die without making any attempt to help them.”


What happened in Arana was a repeat of the mid-August Dama battle. That time the Syrian army did exactly the same thing it did on Friday — withdrawing from the battle and leaving a Druze militia to fight on its own. Now, it seems that the reason behind the regime’s course of action has become well known in Druze-inhabited areas of Syria. The PSP official said that “Druze Sheikhs and some influential officials in those areas are angry about what happened, and about the Druze being implicated in a malicious game that they do not want at all.” Some have cited the words of one of Suweida’s most important sheikhs: We do not attack anyone, and any aggression is unacceptable. Meanwhile, others say the militia that was ambushed in the Arana area was 13 kilometers away from the town — so what were they doing there if they were really defending their town?


These events are now seen in a different light by Syria’s Druze community. Jumblatt’s repeated calls on them to avoid entanglement with the Syrian regime and instead reconcile with their neighbors are being heard now more than ever before. “Now the Druze must understand that their surroundings are under rebel control and that [suicidal action] is forbidden,” the official said with sincerity.


“Daraa has been liberated and so has Quneitra. Where will they go if they stay allied with the Assad regime, which has been defeated in those areas?”


On the Lebanese side of the border matters appear very calm. Attempts to demonize the Druze and push them into conflict with their Sunni neighbors have not succeeded in Hasbaya and Rashaya. “Things have become clear, and standing by Assad is not acceptable,” locals from both areas say. “Neutrality is necessary. No aggressor can be supported, especially not if they are Druze.”


Meanwhile in Syria, attempts to create a breakthrough in Druze public opinion to avoid entering the conflict appear closer than ever.


One Sheikh sums up the situation. “The Druze have a religious shrine in the village of Beit Jinn  an area where there are no Druze. In the past the Free Syrian Army sent a letter to the Druze [community’s] Sheikhs, saying that no fighters were inside the shrine and that they would not enter it as rumors had suggested. In fact they suggested that the sheikhs form a group or committee to come and stay in the shrine so they could be sure it was not damaged or entered, which never happened.”


This positive side of events is being obscured in order to deepen sectarian tension. That is Hezbollah and the Syrian regime’s goal, and the Druze were being forced into taking an anti-Sunni stance. Although that trend seems to have stopped, only the coming days will confirm whether a lasting neutrality has been achieved.


This article is an edited translation of the original, which appeared in online newspaper Almodon.

Smoke rises over Syria's side of the Golan below Mount Hermon. (AFP/Jalaa Marey)

Druze Sheikhs and some influential officials in those areas are angry about what happened, and about the Druze being implicated in a malicious game that they do not want at all.