Syrian civil war divides the Damascus-loyalist Druze in Golan
As the fighting draws near, some are questioning their community's fierce loyalty to Damascus
The Golan region's native Druze people have remained fiercely loyal to Damascus through 46 years of Israeli occupation but as the Syrian civil war draws ever closer, it is dividing the tight-knit community.
With the sound of fighting between Damascus troops and rebels booming from just across the armistice line that separates them from their compatriots, some among the Golan's 20,000 Druze are beginning to question their longstanding devotion to the Syrian regime.
In the territory's main town Majdal Shams, most residents, at least publicly, profess the same staunch Syrian nationalism that has seen nearly all of them spurn Israel's offer of passports since it unilaterally annexed the strategic plateau in 1981.
But the rebel sympathies of a minority, evidenced by a Syrian opposition flag planted atop an Israeli army communications mast just outside town, are stoking sometimes acrimonious splits, even within families. "Imagine someone refusing to speak to his own brother because of a difference of opinion over Syria," said Noor, 20, an engineering student.
"A standard question is who are you with? Many people are not friends anymore because of this." She added that "a father slapped his son in front of everybody" in the town during an argument about Syria.
The sensitivity of the rift within the community over the devastating war between President Bashar al-Assad's troops and the rebels fighting to overthrow him means that most Druze speak only on condition of anonymity.
"I support the Syrian people, and therefore I support Assad," said shopkeeper Abu Zayd - not his real name.
"There's no such thing as the Free Syrian Army (the main rebel force)," he said. "It's a Pakistani, Afghan, American army ... which wants to wage jihad."
Shoe seller Umm Zahir (not her real name), 40, expressed fears shared by many Druze about the many Sunni Islamists in rebel ranks, including fighters of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front who are active just over the armistice line and for whom their breakaway faith is heretical.
"I'm scared that if the rebels win, Al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda will come here, and they believe anyone who's not from their religion is infidel and should be killed," she said. "I support Assad, and I'm for elections."
But as the reality of the bloodshed draws ever closer with wounded Syrians seeking treatment on the Israeli side of the armistice line, some Majdal Shams residents are ready to voice support for the rebels.
"We're against Assad," said Fawzi Mahmud, 42. "Assad showed himself to be worse than a dictator, killing everyone without regard. He doesn't care."
Mahmud said the spread of sympathy for the Syrian opposition had been helped by the gradual erosion of the distinct Golan Druze identity and its attachment to Damascus.