Hundreds of Druze in the Golan Heights marched Monday in commemoration of Syrian independence day, carrying portraits of President Bashar al-Assad and chanting anti-Israel slogans.
“God save Syria!” they shouted as they rallied in the town of Masada. “Down with the occupation!”
Israeli officials say there are about 20,000 Druze on the strategic plateau seized by the Jewish state from neighboring Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel subsequently annexed the 1,200 square kilometers of territory in an action never recognized by the international community.
But the vast majority of Golan Druze have retained Syrian nationality, despite the Israeli offer to acquire Israeli citizenship.
The civil war which has ravaged their homeland for the past six years is reflected in local divisions, with Masada opponents of the Assad regime refusing to march behind his picture.
But both sides are united in their opposition to what they term the Israeli occupation, residents told AFP.
“We retain our Syrian identity and follow the path of national resistance,” said Nasser Ibrahim, one of the organizers of Monday’s march.
“With the crisis in Syria, Israel has increased its measures on the Golan,” said Assad opponent Ayman Abu Jabal, referring to what he called Israeli-ordered changes to the Golan school curriculum.
Israel and Syria are still officially in a state of war, but Israel says it has no wish to get involved in the fighting.
It does, however, carry out strikes against its Lebanese foe Hezbollah, which fights for Assad in Syria.