Golan Druze rally in support of Syria's Assad


Ein Qiniye (AFP)

Hundreds of Druze in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights marched Tuesday in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Syrian independence day and in protest over Western airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites.

An AFP journalist said that more than 500 people waving Syrian flags and carrying portraits of Assad took part in the rally in the village of Ein Qiniye, about 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the Syrian-controlled part of the heights.

They chanted: "Bashar defeated the terrorists" and "Bashar beat the American bombers," referring to US-led strikes over the weekend in which British and French forces participated.

Israeli officials say there are about 20,000 Druze on the strategic plateau seized by the Jewish state from neighbouring Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

They live alongside around 20,000 Israeli settlers.

Israel and Syria are still officially in a state of war.

Israel annexed the 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of territory in an action never recognised by the international community.

But the vast majority of Golan Druze have retained Syrian nationality and many have family ties with Druze in Syrian government-controlled territory.

Another 110,000 Druze live in the Galilee district of northern Israel, where most have Israeli nationality and perform compulsory military service, unlike other Arab citizens.