Sheikh Waheed al-Balaus hosted a delegation of Bedouins Monday in an attempt to calm sectarian tensions in Suwayda province resulting from local Druze killing three Bedouins earlier this month.
“We've said more than once that we do not want sectarianism,” Balaus said in a speech at the gathering, a copy of which circulated on social media Monday. “I'm ready for anything in order to preserve our nation, our national unity and our living side-by-side,” he added.
The Druze-Bedouin relationship in Suwayda province has been fraught since the rule of Hafez al-Assad, although tensions over the past year in particular have escalated after a series of mutual kidnappings.
Reports of mercenary activity by the Bedouins, essentially contracting for the Islamic State, have exacerbated mistrust on both sides.
Anti-Druze Islamic State activity in the province, such as IS's attack on the village of Haqf in May, is often carried out by or with the help of sympathetic Bedouins. Bedouins were also reportedly involved in Jabhat a-Nusra's shelling of Druze villages last summer.
Most recently, when mortars fell on the provincial capital of Suwayda on June 12, some regime-associated Druze figures placed blame on the province's Bedouins in order to stir up sectarian tensions, according to a joint announcement made Monday by a series of leading Druze groups and personalities in Druze-majority Suwayda province, including the Balaus-affiliated Sheikhs of Dignity.
In the aftermath of that attack, pro-regime Druze militias abducted three Bedouin men north and east of Suwayda city, torturing and then executing them, read the announcement. That attack prompted an exodus of Bedouins from their villages.
“The 'Sheikhs of Dignity' and the honorable men of the Jabal a-Druze direct an urgent call through this message to our kin, the Bedouins, to stop leaving their families and homes, and to return to them safe, at ease, and with their honor intact,” read Monday's joint Druze announcement.
-Photo courtesy of Rejal al-Karama