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The Syrian city of Hama was the scene of a massacre in 1982 when President Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president Bashar al-Assad, razed the city to crush a Sunni rebellion, slaughtering an estimated 20,000 of his own people.
Assad’s troops pounded Hama with artillery fire for several days and, with the city in ruins, his bulldozers moved in and flattened neighbourhoods.
The 1982 massacre is regarded as the single bloodiest assault by an Arab ruler against his own people in modern times and remains a pivotal event in Syrian history.
James MacManus, in a dispatch from 23 January 1982, reports that government forces are laying siege to Hama as house-to-house fighting wipes out any opposition. He recalls a series of car bomb attacks in Damascus culminating in an attack on a shopping centre in which more than 100 people died, describing the attacks as “the high point, but by no means the end, of a campaign of terror and counter terror… which President Assad now claims to have won”.
On 11 February 1982 the paper’s foreign staff report “heavy fighting” between Syrian government forces and dissidents in Hama, noting that the city is sealed off by military units and that there are no eyewitness accounts.
On 24 February a Guardian editorial draws attention to the “merciless carnage” taking place.
On 27 February Harish Chandola reports from Hama after the guns have fallen silent. He sees a column of smoke rising from the old quarter, where the fighting was the worst, noting: “I was not allowed to visit it. The security forces are tightly controlling entry and exit from the city to prevent the Muslim Brothers from escaping.”
Nearly a year after the crackdown, the Guardian’s David Hirst reports from amid the ruins in Hama, talking to residents and officials about the razing of the city’s mosques.