MUSHIRFA, Israel — An Israeli Arab has been killed fighting for Syria's rebels, his father said on Wednesday, the first such case for the Jewish state, which has largely kept out of the 2-1/2-year-old civil war next door.
Mueid Agbaria, of the Galilee village of Mushirfa, traveled to Syria via Turkey last month without telling his family, his father Zaki said, adding that the married 28-year-old was accompanied by two other men from a nearby Israeli Arab town.
On Tuesday, the Agbaria family received a photograph of Mueid's body, apparently taken on a battlefield in Syria.
"We were hugely surprised. He was such a calm person," Zaki Agbaria told Reuters, adding that his son had been "the most pious Muslim in our village".
The insurgency against Syrian President Bashar Assad has drawn a trickle of volunteers from Israel's 20 percent Arab minority.
Worried its citizens could gain military know-how and radical Islamist leanings, Israel has sought to deter the practice by trying two Arabs when they returned home. One was sentenced in July to 30 months in prison.
Without elaborating on the sources of his information, Zaki Agbaria said he had heard Mueid died in Shabba, a district adjacent to the Damascus airport road where there were clashes on Tuesday.
Israel estimates that al-Qaida-aligned radical Sunni Muslims make up around one in 10 of those fighting Assad — a secular Allawite closer to the rival Shiite Islam of Iran and Hezbollah.
Israeli Arabs are overwhelmingly Sunni. Asked whether Mueid might have joined rebels linked to al Qaida, his father said: "I think so, yes. Otherwise why would he go without telling me?"
Zaki Agbaria saw no way of recovering his son's body for burial from Syria, which Israel designates as an enemy country. "I haven't even asked the [Israeli] authorities," he said.
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.