The terrified faces of 14 women kidnapped by Islamic State were sent to their families over the weekend and began to circulate online. The women, young and old, are shown against the backdrop of the black and white ISIS flag. Now ISIS has demanded that the Damascus regime stop the offensive against the ISIS pocked in the Yarmouk valley near the Golan, or the women will be harmed. Druze in Israel expressed solidarity and sympathy with coreligionists after the massacre.
The women were kidnapped by ISIS last Wednesday when the extremists attacked the Druze area around Suwayda, murdering more than 250 civilians. In an interview with Middle East Forum Research Fellow Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Druze local Suwayda leader Abbas Abu Shaheen said that 90% of those who were killed were civilians.
ISIS suicide bombers penetrated the city of Suwayda and sent teams of men in vehicles to raid Druze villages east of Suwayda. Locals picked up arms and fought off ISIS for three days. Videos online showed that some of the locals were able to save families who had been kidnapped. What the Druze fighters found in the villages they liberated from ISIS was a mass extermination campaign, similar in scope and style to the ISIS attack on Kobani in June 2015 when 100 ISIS fighters killed mostly Kurdish women and children in eastern Syria in a raid. In the Suwayda area villages ISIS went house to house murdering people.
The ISIS attack targeting Druze is the largest and first of its kind in the Syrian conflict. ISIS has targeted other minorities in the past, committing genocide against Yazidis in northern Iraq, and driving Christians from their homes in Syria and Iraq. The Druze minority was generally protected in Syria conflict and their communities remained in the hands of the regime's control. Al-Qaeda in Syria, then known as the Nusra front in 2015, massacred 20 Druze that year. The attack by ISIS supposedly was in response to the regime's offensive against ISIS near the Golan, but the attack against the Druze has raised questions. Some pro-regime supporters suggested online that the Druze area lacked security because the regime had punished the Druze for avoiding military service. However Druze pointed out that in fact many of their families in Suwayda have sent men to the army and that the government was at fault for transferring ISIS members to the Syrian desert from Damascus in May after the Syrian government defeated an ISIS stronghold there. Other conspiracies claimed that ISIS was able to infiltrate Suwayda by sweeping around to an area of desert near the US-run Tanf base that is on the border with Jordan 100km to the east. Fro instance Abu Shaheen told Al-Tamimi that ISIS "coordinated with the Tanf base and entered the villages of al-Shabaki and Rami and al-Ghayda."
The competing theories put forward suggest that the attack will lead to rancor and anger between the Druze community who demand protection and the Syrian regime that has been focusing on fighting in southern Syria and has not sent enough troops to defeat ISIS. Now both the Druze and regime are galvanized and alert to further ISIS attacks. However the kidnapping of 14 women, and the broadcasting of their photos underscores the continuing threat and brutality of ISIS. A video posted online at the website Badia24 claimed to show one of the women asking Assad to stop the attack on the Yarmouk basin.
Thousands of Druze in Israel also gathered over the weekend, some at Buqata on the Golan and elsewhere in the Galilee, with many discussing the massacre in Syria. "Our hearts and our prayers today with the Druze in Syria after the massacre of Da'ash in which more than 260 Druze were killed in cold blood, mostly women and children," tweeted Reda Mansour, former Israel ambassador to Brazil, and a Druze poet from Israel.