BEIRUT: One of Syria’s top three Druze religious leaders, who had close ties to the regime of President Bashar Assad, has died of cancer, state news agency SANA said Thursday.
A leader of one of Syria’s oldest religious minorities, Sheikh Hussein al-Jarbua, was 87 when he died Wednesday.
“The Druze of Lebanon and Syria lost Wednesday evening a generous man who devoted his life to the public interest and who was known for his patriotism and his calls for peace,” said another Druze leader, Hikmat al-Ajari.
But Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who is staunchly opposed to Assad’s regime, held a different view.
“I will not shed even one tear for a man who supported until the end a regime that massacres its people and whose son Nazih has given out weapons to the shabbiha (pro-regime militia),” Jumblatt told AFP.
Father of three boys and seven girls, Jarbua succeeded his father Ahmad and was appointed one of the Druze community’s three leaders in 1965.
His funeral will be held in the province of Sweida, home to the majority of Syria’s Druze.
Jarbua’s cousin Youssef has been chosen to succeed him.
Another Druze leader, Hamoud al-Hinawi, has remained neutral in Syria’s spiraling conflict.
In May, he negotiated with Sunni Muslim tribes of the southern province of Deraa the release of 13 Druze policemen in exchange for 150 Sunni prisoners.
After 21 anti-regime fighters were killed Wednesday while attacking the Druze village of Mseimar, residents took eight rebels hostage.
Hours later, the Deraa-based rebels captured 15 Druze in exchange, and Hinawi is currently negotiating a new prisoner exchange.
Syria’s Druze constitute 3 percent of the country’s population of 23 million.