I’m sorry to have left for so long. It’s hot outside and I had more obligations that I originally thought.
I also went home and got out my expired U.S. and Lebanese Passport. I checked the dates to make sure everything was correct. I arrived in Damascus on, I believe, an SAA flight from London. It is stamped January 28, 1982. I was in Tartous on February 2, 1982 when the mess in Hama began. This means I stayed in Tartous longer than three days. I really cannot remember that. In any case, news came that the Muslim Brotherhood fanatics in Hama were discovered by alert Internal Security agents. What they discovered was a cashe of weapons which were being distributed to their militants for use against government officials, mostly Alawis and Christians. The rumors at the hotel, as I sat with some Ba’ath Party members was that the security services would take care of the criminals quickly. That did not happen.
From February 3, through February 14, 1982, the government of President Hafez Al-Assad tried to negotiate with the terrorist fanatics. To no avail. I remember General Tlas, General Shihabi, Mr. Abdel-Halim Khaddam and other Sunni pesonalities in the government playing musical chairs while trying to extract the militants from two quarters of Hama in which they were holed up. They were Al-Hadhir and Kaylaniyya, both remnants of a dilapidated Ottoman past. On the eleventh day of the siege of the two quarters, I was in Sqailbiyya monitoring events with a good friend in the Ba’ath Party. News reached us that the fanatics in Hama had called on their cohorts in Aleppo to rise up and continue the revolt. News also arrived that the militants had taken control of a radio station in Hama.
I watched the Ba’ath leadership take control of the situation by sealing off all access routes into the city from Mhardeh and Sqailbiyya. People who wanted to evacuate were encouraged to do so from all quarters of the city. I pesonally met one hundred Hamawis with their families trying to find shelter in the countryside and with kin in other parts of Syria. They were never bothered by the army or the security personnel. To the contrary, the Ba’ath had set up “assistance points” to get the evacuees out as efficiently as possible. It was obvious to everyone that General Assad had given the go-ahead order for the assault on the criminals in Hama and that all hell would be breaking loose soon.
It did. I stayed with my friend througout the entire time in Sqailbiyya. He was not originally from there, instead, he was from a neighboring town called Mhardeh. But he had many friends there who were delighted that I was an afficionado of Araq, Syria’s prized hooch. It was homemade and superb – better than much of the highly-touted Araq of the Lebanon. In any case, we saw elements of Syria’s Second Army Group surround the area as back-up for Rifaat Assad’s Saraya Al-Difaa and Saraya Al-Siraa with additional on-the-ground urban warfare units pouring in from the Special Forces commanded by Lt. General Ali Haidar. It was glorious.
The attack on Hama to liberate fanatic-infested parts of it was well planned and efficient. I knew from the tightness of the seal around Hama that the plague-carrying rodents of the Muslim Brotherhood could not escape. At night, we could see flares shooting up everywhere and the tell-tale sound of heavy armor moving in the direction of the traitors. From February 13 through February 15, 1982, the din of liberating artillery could be heard with visible plumes of smoke rising up from Al-Hadhir. Clearly, the two quarters, given their age and lack of engineering safety design would collapse.
Here are the facts about civilians in Al-Hadhir and Kaylanniyya: We were fully aware of the danger presented to civilians and made this known to Akram’s friends in Second Army Group. They promised to check out whether any measures had been implemented to prevent harm to innocent civilians still trapped inside the target area. My memory is now somewhat blurry because of the ravages of time. I remember the face of the Captain with whom we sat and who gave us his take on the situation. From his accent, he sounded urban, possibly from the Aleppo area. I cannot remember his name although I do recall keeping a diary at that time.
Many, but not all of the civilians, had evacuated, although the Muslim Brotherhood tried to prevent this process hoping that the presence of civilians would stave off a full-blown assault. They were wrong. In any case, we knew that the chauffeurs of the city were doing a brisk business shuttling people away from the area of conflict. According to the captain, many taxi drivers, especially the ones from Homs, were executed by the criminals for aiding the government. My recollection was that taxi drivers had become attractive targets for the criminals in the same way interpreters became prime targets in Iraq. I have to continue another time because a client just rang the door. I’ll finish this shortly. Ziad Abu Fadel