BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian state media praised Druze villagers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday for attacking an Israeli military ambulance they said was carrying two insurgents from a group fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
The Israeli army said one of the men in the ambulance was killed as a result of the attack it described as a lynching.
The incident in the Golan village of Majdal Shams overlooking Syrian territory was the second attack by Druze on an Israeli army ambulance in less than 24 hours.
It reflected rising Druze agitation over what the community sees as Israel’s failure to help embattled Druze brethren in Syria while offering medical aid to Syrian civilians and combatants who include anti-Assad fighters.
Insurgent advances towards Druze areas in southern Syria and a mass killing of Druze by Nusra Front fighters in the northwest have fueled fears among the minority. Concern has also rippled through Lebanon and Israel, which both have Druze communities.
A report on state news agency SANA described the Druze villagers as “heroic Syrian young men” and identified the insurgents as members of the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
SANA said the Druze had inflicted “the punishment on them for their participation in the aggression on the mother homeland, Syria, and its people”.
The Israeli military declined to elaborate on the identities of the Syrians who were in the ambulance.
Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio, Brigadier-General Moti Almoz said: “About 100 people stormed the wounded people and as a result of this contact the injured men’s condition deteriorated and one of them died - this was a lynching, yes.”
He said the men in the ambulance were Syrian citizens injured in Syrian civil war fighting, but did not explicitly say whether they were fighters or civilians.
Insurgents last week launched a new offensive against the Syrian military and allied militia in the southwestern province of Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Their advance near the Druze village of Hader has compounded Druze concerns that their minority faces a risk from the insurgency.
Nusra Front fighters earlier this month shot dead at least 20 Druze villagers in the northwestern province of Idlib.
An alliance of rebels who profess a secular vision for Syria say they launched the latest Quneitra offensive and have excluded the Nusra Front from the fighting. Nusra does however have a presence in the south.
The Druze practice a religion that is an offshoot of Islam and seen as heretical by the puritanical brand of Sunni Islamism espoused by al Qaeda.
Reportin by Tom Perry in Beirut and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Tom Heneghan