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Druze Residents Celebrate End of France's Mandate Over Syria

A woman throws rice as other members of the Druze community holding a Syrian flag walk past during a rally marking Syria's Independence Day in the Druze village of Buqata on the Golan Heights, April 17, 2013.
Dozens of Druze residents of Bukata village, straddling along the Syrian border, marched waving Syrian flags on the anniversary of the 1946 withdrawal of French troops from Syria that marked the end of France's mandate over an Arab country.

"We are here in solidarity with our mother land Syria as it is the anniversary for the victory [over French occupation in Syria], and as we are Syrian Arabs living on Syrian land occupied by Israel, we stand here in solidarity with the Syrian military and leadership to show solidarity to our country as it is facing a crisis and facing all the world during this crisis," said Fadi Mahmoud, a Druze who lives in Israel.

The tight-knit community who belong to a secretive offshoot of Islam is traditionally a bastion of supporters of Bashar al-Assad though there's little sign of eagerness to live under Assad's regime.

"We are here to share with our relatives at the Golan. As Palestinians we came to the Syrian [occupied] Golan to congratulate Syria on the victory which happened when they pushed away the French Occupation one day," said Nour Badran, a supporter of the Syrian regime. "This is proof that the nation's always awake and the nation's always ready."

Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, a move not recognized internationally. It gave the Druze there, who today number about 20,000, the option of citizenship. Most rejected it.

Syria demands the Golan's return as part of any peace agreement, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is unwilling to go that far.

Two years into the uprising against Assad, government forces are fighting hard to keep control of cities. Many rural areas and provincial towns have fallen to the rebels.

Syria's uprising began as a protest movement against four decades of Assad family rule but has degenerated into an increasingly sectarian conflict that has killed at least 70,000.