By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Druze blocked an Israeli army ambulance they believed was transporting wounded Syrian rebels on Monday, local authorities said, a rare confrontation underscoring Druze concern for brethren caught up in the civil war next door.
The Druze are an Arab minority that practice an offshoot of Islam and whose adherents in Syria, long loyal to the ruling Assad family, are beset by jihadi insurgents. Israeli Druze, some of whom wield clout in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and the military, have been urging intervention.
In the absence of such action, many Druze in Israel and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights are angry at the admission of casualties from rival Sunni Muslim communities in Syria -- anti-Assad fighters among them -- for medical treatment.
An Israeli army ambulance carrying Syrian casualties was stopped before dawn on Monday on the outskirts of Hurfeish, a Druze town in northern Israel, by several residents who demanded to inspect the passengers, a police spokesman said.
The ambulance pulled away, with the Hurfeish residents throwing rocks at it as they followed in pursuit, the police spokesman said, adding that a 54-year-old local man was injured after apparently being hit by the military vehicle.
Farah Sabeq, secretary of the Hurfeish municipality, confirmed several townsmen had taken part in the incident. Speaking to Reuters, he described them as "incensed by the situation in Syria" and said that while they had tried to close the road used by the ambulance, he knew of no stone-throwing.
"We condemn this as we would any illegal activity, but especially here, as it involved the security forces -- in all branches of which Hurfeish residents serve," Sabeq said.
Ayoob Kara, a Druze deputy Israeli minister, sought to reassure his kinsmen about Syrian casualties coming into Israel.
In a statement, Kara said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon had told him Israel would not admit fighters from radical jihadi groups Islamic State or Nusra Front. Israeli officials have said they did not condition treatment on casualties' affiliations.
The military declined to elaborate on the identities of the Syrians who were in the ambulance stopped outside Hurfeish.
In a statement, Sheikh Muwafaq Tarif, the head of Israel's Druze community, condemned the confrontation as "the kind of provocation that harms our interests and those of our Druze brothers over the border".
"This is our moment of truth," he said. "The Druze religion and tradition opposes any physical harm, especially against wounded people."
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)