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Hafez al-Assad

Age: 69

dictatorial president of Syria who presided over the country with an iron fist since leading a 1971 military coup. Assad transformed the once insignificant Syria into a Middle East power amid ongoing hostility with Israel. In 1982, he ordered the arrest, torture, and execution of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had launched a rebellion in Hama. Assad was later cautiously embraced by Western governments when he condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia from potential Iraqi attack. In Dec. 1999, Israeli-Syrian talks resumed after a nearly four-year hiatus, but soon broke down when Syria demanded the return of the entire Golan Heights. Assad's son, Bashar, an ophthalmologist, assumed the helm.

Died: Damascus, June 10, 2000

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