Hekmat Shehabi, Controversial Ex-Syrian Army Chief of Staff, Dies in OC

Syrian state run television announced yesterday that Hekmat Shehabi, the former chief of staff of the nation's armed forces, had died. The Syrian army's general command gave few details surrounding the circumstances of his passing. He was 82 years-old and residing in Orange County at the time of his death according to the Syrian American Council (SAC).

Shehabi was born in the northern province of Aleppo, which has fallen largely into the hands of opposition forces since the regime of Bashar Al-Assad was openly challenged by anti-government activists two years ago this month.

Trained in the former Soviet Union, Shehabi rose through the ranks becoming the armed forces chief of staff in 1974, a post he held until resigning in 1998 when then-President Hafez Al-Assad was preparing the transition of power to his son.

The retired general was one of the top commanders during the infamous Hama massacre in 1982. Estimates place the death toll from that atrocity as high as 40,000. "He never spoke out about the Hama massacre," Hassan Twiet, President of SAC's LA chapter, says, "or the recent atrocities in his own city of Aleppo."

"Our condolences to his family," Twiet offers. "We wish he lived a little bit longer to see that Syria is on the road to freedom and democracy."

Shehabi's son, Hazem Chehabi, was at the center of a local controversy last year as he resigned his post as Syrian honorary consul general in Newport Beach following the Houla massacre. "They were in full support of the regime," Twiet says. "It was a shameful resignation, it was not an honorable one."

Chehabi is still listed as a trustee to the UC Irvine Foundation despite student activist efforts to gain his dismissal.
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