Beirut: A prominent Druze cleric known for criticising Syria`s regime and Islamist extremists was assassinated in a car bomb attack outside the southern city of Sweida Friday, a monitoring group said.
"Sheikh Wahid al-Balous was killed in a car bomb attack as he was driving on the outskirts of Sweida city. The bomb also killed three other people," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Abdel Rahman said a second car bomb struck near the hospital in the Dahr al-Jabal neighbourhood where the wounded were being taken, but gave no details on possible casualties.
Sweida is the heartland of Syria`s Druze minority, which made up around three percent of the country`s pre-war population of 23 million.
"Balous was the leader of the Sheikhs of Dignity group, which aimed to protect the Druze areas in Syria," said Malek Abu Kheir, a journalist from Sweida who knew him.
He opposed army conscripts from Sweida being sent outside of the province, and spoke out often against both jihadist groups and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Abu Kheir told AFP.
The Druze community has been somewhat divided during the war, with some members fighting on the government side and others expressing sympathy for the opposition.
Thousands of Druze men have evaded military service in the army`s dwindling ranks and have mostly taken up arms only in defence of their own areas.
In Sweida, Druze have formed a local militia to protect themselves from the rebels, residents say.