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Druze commemorate anniversary of Israeli occupation of Syria's Golan Heights Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Druze commemorate anniversary of Israeli occupation of Syria's Golan Heights

Syrian Druze pledged loyalty to Syria, carrying photos of Bashar al-Assad [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 February, 2019

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Druze gathered on Thursday to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. Israel gave residents citizenship rights in 1981 but many remain loyal to Syria.

Syrian Druze gathered on Thursday to mark the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights which is in its 52nd year. Toting Syrian flags, the protestors affirmed their loyalty to Syria.

"This land is the land of our fathers and grandfathers, the land is ours," Qasem Mahmoud al-Safadi of Majdal Shams told Reuters.

"No one has the right to it other than Syrians."

Israel occupied large parts of the Golan in the 1967 war and officially annexed the territory in 1981, a move which has not been recognised internationally. The rest of the Golan remains a Syrian territory.

The annexation of the Golan means the territory is not occupied in the same way as Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza - its residents are able to claim Israeli citizenship and are subject to Israeli civil law.

The majority of the Druze, a minority Arab religious community with adherents in Syria, Lebanon and Israel, have rejected Israeli citizenship. Around 22,000 Druze live in the Israeli-occupied Golan.

The 120,000 Druze who live in Israel are instead a rare, integrated minority. They are the only non-Jewish citizens drafted into the Israeli army.

Although many Druze in Syria, like those in the occupied Golan, support the Syrian government, the community rejected calls for its members to join the army in 2018.

Israel was once willing to consider returning the Golan in a peace deal with Syria, but it has in recent years treated the territory as a crucial strategic base for its military operations in Syria, especially against the Iranian presence there.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday confirmed an Israeli strike on Quneitra in the Syrian Golan.

"We are working all the time to block Iran," he said. 

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