The ground assault by Syrian forces in the central city of Homs has evoked memories of a massacre 30 years ago in nearby Hama.
At least 10,000 people were killed in February 1982 during the three-week pounding of the city by government artillery and tanks ordered by Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president.
“Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble,” The Washington Post’s Edward Cody wrote in early May of that year, when Hama was finally reopened to outsiders. “Bulldozers are still flattening crumbled buildings, leaving empty lots the size of four football fields where prosperous market stalls and centuries-old Islamic landmarks once graced the banks of the Orontes River.”
Just as the assault this week on the Bab Amr district of Homs targeted the epicenter of the nearly year-long revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, so, too, was the 1982 offensive directed at a source of anti-government agitation. In the earlier case, Hafez al-Assad was moving to quash a stronghold of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and the heavy assault helped him extinguish the challenge to his regime.
The forces that he deployed against Hama included regular soldiers, militia from the ruling Baath Party and elite troops from the Defense Brigades led by Rifaat al-Assad, the president’s brother.
The ground assault in Homs this week followed an artillery siege that lasted more than three weeks and included elements of the elite 4th Armored Division, commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of the current president.
It is not clear how many civilians have been killed in the offensive in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, but the death toll certainly has not approached the number killed in just three weeks in Hama in 1982. The United Nations reported last month that “well over” 7,500 Syrians have been killed across the country since the unrest began nearly a year ago.
Hama has also been a flash point of protest during the current uprising, and it had been seen as the epicenter of the uprising before peaceful protests there were crushed in the summer. The opposition movement there has revived in recent weeks, and some analysts expect the Syrian military to move on to Hama and other cities after it reasserts control over Homs.