The bloody repression by the Syrian army of an armed uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in the central city of Hama in February 1982 is one of the darkest pages in the history of the Syrian regime.
The rebellion and ensuing crackdown by the Defense Brigades, an elite force led by Rifaat al-Assad, brother of then president Hafez al-Assad, left between 10,000 and 40,000 people dead, according to different sources.
Assad died in 2000 and was succeeded by his son Bashar, who is now battling to put down an 11-month revolt that has left more than 6,000 people dead, according to human rights groups.
The 1982 events in Hama started on February 2 ─ or February 3 according to the Syrian authorities ─ with the massacre of around 20 leading members of the ruling Baath party by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world’s most influential Sunni Islamist movement.
Brotherhood members then holed up in mosques, from where they issued calls for an insurrection.
It took the Syrian forces more than three weeks, backed by artillery, armored vehicles and air strikes, to overcome the uprising, with considerable destruction and massive loss of life.
According to witnesses, more than 10,000 soldiers were deployed to Hamas, a city in the Orontes valley, some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus.
The events were the culmination of clashes between the Syrian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood which started in March 1979 with an attack against the military academy in the northern city of Aleppo, in which 80 cadets were killed.
All were Alawites, the minority community in Syria to which the Assad family belongs.
The organizer of the attack, a Sunni training officer, Ibrahim Youssef, said that it was an act of protest against what he described as a sectarian regime that discriminated in favor of Alawites and against the Sunni majority.
The regime’s crushing of the Brotherhood led to hundreds of executions and thousands of arrests, particularly in Aleppo ─ Syria’s second-largest city ─ and in the desert town of Palmyra, as well as in Hama itself.