Thousands of Syrian Druze held funerals for four members of their community killed while attacking a government loyalist militia in the sect’s stronghold in the south of the country, an activist organisation said.
The attack this week by Druze fighters opposed to the regime of Bashar Al Assad dealt a defeat to a militia linked to Syrian Military Intelligence, one of the country’s most feared security divisions, in the governorate of Suweida on the border with Jordan.
It tilted a local balance of power held for years in Suweida by pro-Assad militias in favour of vigilante groups formed by the local population to combat regime-linked criminal rings and check loyalist forces.
The loyalist militia is headed by Raji Falhout, a pro-regime enforcer in Suweida who is on the run. Residents say he has attracted so much popular hatred that even pro-regime Druze elders supported the attack to expel his group from the district.
Suwaida24, a local news organisation run by young activists, shared on Whatsapp footage purportedly showing a large crowd attending the funeral of three of the fighters in the town of Shahba. Another fighter was buried in Suweida city, the capital of the province, also known as the Druze Mountain.
Many mourners were dressed in traditional black clothes, with white and red turbans. The horizontally coloured Druze flag fluttered over the procession.
A member of the Khatib family, to whom one of the dead fighters belonged, addressed the funeral and said the Falhout militia had terrorised Suweida “with cover from the authorities”.
“This is not how you reward the [Druze] Mountain, this is not how you reward the descendants of Sultan Basha Al Atrash,” the speaker said.
He was referring to the Druze figure who led the Great Syrian Revolt from 1925 to 1927 against French rule, which became a symbol of Arab nationalism despite its failure.
Syria is majority Sunni and the Druze are a tiny minority who constituted about 3 per cent of the country’s 20 million population in 2010, the last year of reliable data.
But the Druze have not sided as strongly as other minorities with the Alawite-dominated regime since the outbreak of the revolt against the Assad family rule in March 2011 and the ensuing civil war.
Rayyan Maarouf from Suwaida24 said the Falhout militia had become hated to such a degree that the regime “sacrificed it”.
“What has happened in Suweida in the last few days has been an uprising,” he said.
The militia reportedly lost at least nine men in the fighting and was forced to abandon all its buildings and road blocks.
But an opposition source in Amman who has been studying the events in Suweida said the regime would seek to avenge its defeat or it would appear weak in the area, which constitutes a main supply line between Damascus and loyalist forces in the south.
“The regime will respond,” he said. "It cannot afford to lose its authority in Suweida."