Assad, Hafez al- (häfĕzˈ äl-äsˈsäd) [key], 1930–2000, president of Syria (1971–2000). He graduated (1955) from the Syrian Military Academy and advanced through the army ranks to become a general. He served (1966–70) as Syria's minister of defense and commander in chief of the air force. Using that position, Assad was able to become the most powerful figure in Syria, and in 1971 he became the country's president after leading a coup in late 1970. An autocratic ruler at the head of a police state, he was strongly anti-Zionist and a major supporter of Palestinian guerrilla organizations. In 1976 he sent Syrian troops as a peacekeeping force to Lebanon, where they became a force in Lebanese politics. In the 1990s, Assad sought to cultivate both the support of more militant Arab leaders and peaceful relations with the West in an attempt to regain the Golan Heights and increase Syrian influence in the Middle East.
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