Factbox: Syria’s city of Hama, site of new assault

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Fri, 30 Dec, 2011

(Reuters) – Arab League monitors head to more cities in Syria on Thursday, including Hama which has a particular resonance to Syrians opposed to President Bashar al Assad‘s rule.

Here are some details about the city, the site of a bloody massacre in 1982:

* 1982:

— In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood sought to destabilize and unseat President Hafez al-Assad and his government through political assassinations and urban guerilla warfare. In February 1982, the Muslim Brotherhood ambushed government forces searching for dissidents in Hama.

— Syrian government forces attacked the city, razing the old quarters of Hama to crush the armed uprising by Brotherhood fighters who had taken refuge there.

— Estimates of the death toll in the three weeks of operations in Hama vary from 10,000 to more than 30,000 out of a population of 350,000. Syria then imprisoned much of the membership of the local Islamist group.

— Syrian human rights groups said women, children and the elderly were among those killed in the crackdown and thousands were forced to flee the city.

* 2011:

— Nearly 30 years on Hama demonstrators demanding Assad’s overthrow still revile the memory of his father, who died in 2000 after ruling Syria for three decades.

— In June, activists said Syrian forces killed at least 60 protesters in the city. Residents said security forces and snipers had fired on crowds of demonstrators.

— Assad sacked the governor of Hama province on July 2, a day after tens of thousands of protesters massed in the provincial capital to demand the Syrian leader step down.

— The demonstration in Hama was part of nationwide protests which activists said were some of the biggest since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in mid-March.

— In a symbolic show of solidarity, U.S. ambassador Robert Ford and French ambassador Eric Chevallier visited Hama on July 8 to put pressure on Assad not to crush the protest. Syria condemned the action and summoned them to Damascus on July 10.

— Ford had only arrived in Damascus in January. After he posted a letter on the embassy’s Facebook page, a mob stormed the embassy compound July 11, tearing down plaques.

— In August, tanks attacked Hama for ten days, provoking Arab and Western outrage.

— At the beginning of September, Adnan Mohammad al-Bakkour, the attorney-general of Hama said he had resigned because security forces killed 72 jailed protesters and activists at Hama’s central jail on the eve of a military assault on the city on July 31. He said at least another 420 people were killed in the operation and were buried in mass graves in public parks.

— Syrian troops backed by tanks killed at least 10 people when they stormed Hama on December 14 after a three-day general strike in support of the pro-democracy uprising had shut most businesses, activists said.

* ABOUT HAMA:

— Hama has been settled as far back as the Bronze Age. Famous for its citadel and its ancient Norias (waterwheels), the younger Assad and his government has sought to promote the city as a tourist destination.

Hama, Syria‘s fourth biggest city, has a mostly Sunni Muslim population of 700,000. It lies about 210 km (131 miles) north of Damascus.

Sources: Reuters/www.globalsecurity.org/homsonline (Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit)

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