July 27, 2018 / 4:53 PM / 4 months ago

Lebanon's Druze leader attacks Syrian government over massacre

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The main leader of the Druze sect in Lebanon on Friday attacked the Syrian government for failing to stop an Islamic State massacre of Druze in Syria, saying it should have noticed the militants gathering to attack.

Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris following a meeting with French President Francois Hollande, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“No one can tell me that the squadrons of many American, Russian and foreign planes did not see this gathering which suddenly took the regime by surprise and raided Jebel al-Arab,” said Walid Jumblatt.

Islamic State’s assault on the city of Sweida and nearby villages in the Jebel al-Arab area on Thursday killed more than 200 people, many of them civilians.

Syrian state media said the army had intervened and battled the militants with both ground forces and air strikes.

Jumblatt, who heads the largest Druze political party in Lebanon, is a strong critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Other Druze parties are pro-Damascus.

He also accused Assad of wanting to send Druze from the Jebel al-Arab area including the city of Sweida to fight in a future offensive against rebels in Idlib province in northern Syria.

Many community leaders and top Druze religious leaders have refused to sanction enlistment in the army during Syria’s seven-year conflict.

“They want to sacrifice the youths of Jebel al-Arab in Idlib,” Jumblatt said.

He asked Assad’s main ally Russia to help prevent that.

“We want its (Russia’s) guarantee to the people of the Jebel that they will remain in the Jebel and not be used by Bashar as fodder, living or dead, for his personal ends.”

Reporting By Laila Bassam and Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean

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