Siege of Jaffa
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|Siege of Jaffa|
|Part of Egypt-Syria Campaign|
The painting Napoleon visiting the plague victims of Jaffa, by Antoine-Jean Gros depicts the aftermath of this battle.
|French First Republic||Ottoman Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Napoleon Bonaparte||Ahmed al-Jazzar|
Jaffa was surrounded by high walls, flanked by towers. Ahmed al-Jazzar entrusted its defence to his elite troops, including 1,200 artillerymen. Napoleon had to win Jaffa before he could advance any further, and the whole expedition's success depended on its capture—the town was one of Syria's main mercantile centres, and had a harbour which would provide vital shelter for his fleet.
All the exterior works could be besieged and a breach was feasible; when Bonaparte sent a Turk to the city's commander to order its surrender, the commander decapitated the Turk and ordered a sortie. He was pushed back and as early as the evening of the same day; the weight of the besiegers caused one of the towers to collapse and so, despite resistance by its defenders, Jaffa was taken.
According to some sources, the French messengers who brusquely told the city of Napoleon's ultimatum had been arrested, tortured, castrated and decapitated, and their heads impaled on the city walls. This harsh treatment led Napoleon, when the city fell, to allow his soldiers two days and nights of slaughter and rape. He also executed the Turkish governor Abdallah Bey. Bonaparte no longer wished to honour the promises of his step son Eugène de Beauharnais that prisoners' lives would be spared and ordered that a large part of the Ottoman prisoners (according to some sources around 2,440, according to others 4,100), many of them Albanians, be shot or stabbed to death with bayonets. Napoleon's eulogists later wrote of this decision: "For, to keep in submission so considerable a number of prisoners, it would have been necessary to detach guards for them, which would have severely diminished his army's numbers; and if he had allowed them to leave free men, it was reasonable to fear that they might swell the ranks of Ahmed al-Jazzar's troops."
Napoleon also allowed hundreds of Egyptians to leave, hoping that the news they would carry of Jaffa's fall would intimidate the defenders of the other cities in Syria. This backfired, since their news instead made these defenders fight all the more fiercely. Meanwhile, a plague epidemic caused by poor hygiene in the French headquarters in Ramla decimated the local population and the French army alike. As he had also suggested during the siege of Acre, on the eve of the retreat from Syria-Palestine Napoleon suggested to his army doctors (led by Desgenettes), that the seriously ill troops who could not be evacuated should be given a fatal dose of laudanum, but they forced him to give up the idea. Overcome in the north of the country by the Turks, Napoleon abandoned Palestine. After his departure the British, allied to the Turks and commanded by William Sidney Smith, rebuilt Jaffa's city walls.
In the years 1800 to 1814, after a new nine-month siege, Jaffa was again taken over by Napoleon's former opponent, Ahmed al-Jazzar, Acre's governor, a Bosnian.