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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Israeli army pledges help to Syrian Golan village

IDF makes rare public announcement of intervention in Syria after majority-Druze village was attacked by extremist rebels

Members of Israel's Druze community gather at the fence separating the Israeli-held and Syrian sides of the Golan Heights on November 3, 2017 after hearing about an attack on the Syrian Druze village of Hader by extremist rebels. Jalaa Marey / AFP
Members of Israel's Druze community gather at the fence separating the Israeli-held and Syrian sides of the Golan Heights on November 3, 2017 after hearing about an attack on the Syrian Druze village of Hader by extremist rebels. Jalaa Marey / AFP

The Israeli army on Friday issued a rare statement pledging not to allow a government-held village in Syria's Golan Heights to be taken by attacking rebel forces.

The majority-Druze village, which lies near the disengagement line that divides the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan from that occupied by Israel, was targeted early in the morning by a suicide car bomb that killed nine.

Clashes were reported between government and rebel forces, and one Israeli was lightly wounded by spillover fire.

Meanwhile, Druze from Majdal Shams, a village on the Israeli side of the disengagement line, tried to help their brethren in Syria.

The Israeli army sealed off the area to prevent anyone crossing.

The Syrian state news agency Sana said the car bombing was carried out by Jabhat Al Nusra, using the former name of Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, which it changed to Jabhat Fatah Al Sham after claiming to have severed ties with the terrorist group. At least 23 people were injured, Sana reported.

"In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, terrorist groups carried out a heavy attack on Hader, and army units and the Popular Defence units [pro-government militias] clashed with the attackers," Sans said.

The agency said the death toll was expected to rise because a number of those wounded in the bombing were in serious condition and the ongoing assault on the town made it difficult to remove the injured to safety.

Hader lies in south-western Syria's Quneitra province, around 70 per cent of which is held by either rebel or extremist groups, with the government controlling the other 30 per cent, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

There are approximately 140,000 Druze in Israel, including 20,000 in the Golan Heights.

Israel has long professed a policy of not intervening militarily in the Syrian civil war, while carrying out strikes on weaponry that could threaten it and treating people wounded in the fighting.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 and later annexed it, a move never recognised by the international community.