Hama Massacre

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Islamist uprising against Syrian regime.

In February 1982, Syrian security forces entered the densely populated old city of Hama, situated on the Orontes River south of Aleppo, to search for weapons hidden by Islamist militants. Local residents, urged on by alarms from neighborhood mosques, attacked the troops and pushed them out of the central city. Armed militants then seized control of the provincial headquarters of the ruling Baʿth Party and other key government installations. Elite military and security units commanded by the president's brother, Colonel Rifʿat al-Asad, rushed to the area and, from the heights of the nearby citadel, rained artillery and tank fire into the town, leveling its major commercial and residential districts. Estimates of the dead range from 10,000 to 30,000.

Although Hama had long been a center of Islamist political activism and the location of frequent outbreaks of popular challenge to successive Baʿthist regimes after the 1963 revolution, the 1982 uprising was notable for its massive scale, the broad range of social forces that took part, the high degree of organization evidenced by its leaders, and the ruthlessness with which it was crushed. The most militant Islamist organization in north-central Syria, the Fighting Vanguard, led by Adnan Uqla, never recovered. Even more moderate Islamists scaled back their activities sharply, while some prominent figures, to avoid being harassed, tortured, and killed, initiated overtures to the authorities. For almost a decade the government refused to allocate funds to rebuild the city, whose ruins stood as a stark warning to other dissidents.

See also hama.


Abd-Allah, Umar F. The Islamic Struggle in Syria. Berkeley, CA: Mizan Press, 1983.

Seale, Patrick. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. Berkeley: University of California Press; London: I. B. Taurus, 1988.

fred h. lawson