The following is a comprehensive account of the Lebanese war that
1975 and was to last decades. The account is based on countless
of news articles and a variety of books. The books include The
of the State in Lebanon by Farid el Khazen, The PLO by Jillian Becker,
Pity the Nation by Robert Fisk, The Tragedy of Lebanon by Jonathan
Arafat From Defender to Dictator by Said Aburish, Sanctuary and
the PLO in Lebanon by Rex Brynen, Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas
The War of Desperation by John Laffin, and Veil the Secret Wars of the
CIA by Bob Woodward, and the Library of Congress.
The Lebanese war is very complex and has many dimensions so is not considered, as some have claimed, to be a 'civil war' as many non Lebanese nationals were very heavily involved, indeed armies of neighbouring countries took part in much of the fighting. It is unfortunate that there is reference to 'Christians' and 'Muslims' in the following account as this may cause those unfamiliar with the events to think that the war was one of religion. This would be unfair and simplistic as religion was just used as a convenient umbrella to stereotype and group the many factions and thus divide them between two opposing sides. There were many 'Muslims' on the 'Christian side' and vice versa. The opposing sides were not fighting each other simply because of their religion but as a result of major differences of opinion on matters such as who should run the country and how the country should be run. It was a war about ideology, identity, nationality, insanity, and stupidity.
The dimensions of the war comprised of a Lebanese-Palestinian war, a
Lebanese-Lebanese, a Palestinian-Syrian, a Palestinian-Israeli, a
a Syrian-Israeli, and a Lebanese-Israeli war. Add to these dimensions
Iraqis, Americans and Russians, and the resulting chaotic soup of well
over seventy groups fighting in Lebanon would confuse the most ordered
The War of 1958
Further confirmation came from a seemingly unusual source, the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP). The SSNP believed that the leftist rebels wanted to liquidate them as part of a communist inspired plot because the SSNP opposed the plans of President Nasser of Egypt for union with Syria. In a press conference on May 19, 1958 Assad El Ashkar, the head of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party stated:
"As for the actual intervention of the United Arab Republic, our comrades at Idbil could clearly hear dialects of Syrians and Egyptians when they fought with the attackers face to face. The Syrian Army sent to Irsal (a Lebanese village on the borders near Nabi Osman) several mortars. Major Hassan Hiddaa of the Syrian Army entered the Lebanese town of Irsal in an armored car and stayed there for a couple of hours, where he inspected the forces of rebellion. The source of arms of all rebels in the Baalbec-Hirmel district is the Sarraj Deuxieme Bureau. Abdo Hakim, another Syrian officer at Homs is in charge of supplying the rebels with arms and amunitions. He himself lead some of the caravans which carried arms to Al-Kassr (another Lebanese village in the Hirmel District)."
In a memorandum to Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations Organization the SSNP said:
"The arming of the rebel tribes in the Hirmel district started on the 27th of March 1958, in the Syrian village of “al Hamam” on the Syrian frontier bordering the Hirmel district in Northern Bikaah.....The Syrian Lieutenant Abdu Hakeem was personally in charge of arming the rebel tribes. He himself used to distribute arms and lead convoys into the Lebanese territory......The attack on Halba, Accar, was launched from Al-Kasser in Hirmil. Abdu Hakeem harangued the rebels, then before the attack was started many Syrian conscripts took part in the attack.....Another main centre of rebels and infiltration is Orsal (a Lebanese frontier village). It is the headquarters of the Syrian Major Hasssan Hiddah, In charge of the Orsal-Baalbeck area. Recent information point out that ex-Colonel Ali Hayyari, expelled from the Jordanian Army in 1957, is in charge with Major Hiddah, of military rebel operations in Bikaah. On June 1st, 1958, Major Hiddah held in Orsal, a general meeting for all Syrian conscripts participating in the rebellion. The meeting took place near the house of the Mukhtar Hujjeiry......Syrian arms were distributed to the village of Rassem Al Haddath, Shath, Younin, Makheh, Brital, Hour Takla, Al Ein, Al Labweh, Dar el Wassia.On May 31st, Tawfic Halo Haidar, received from Major Hiddah, through the Nabec - Orsal road, 300 machine guns and on June 8th, 1958, the rebel tribesmen, Tahan Dandash, Salih Nasser-el Deen, Khudur Saadoun, went to Damascus and came back with 900 guns. The number of guns smuggled through the Bikaah borders up till that date, reached approximately 3500 guns including machine guns, Bazooka guns and other varieties. Big sums of money were also paid by the Syrian authorities to rebel tribes."
The memorandum continues:
"Deir El Ashayir (a Lebanese village on the Syrian frontier) is the main centre for arming and training of the rebels. Syrian officers are in charge of their military training. Major Tawfic Janial of the Syrian Deuxieme Bureau is in charge of arming the rebels of the Rashaya district. Naassan Zakkar, officer in the Syrian Deuxieme Bureau is in charge of the military operations. All the above-mentioned officers work under the direct command of Captain Burhan Adham who is in charge of the Syrian Deuxieme Bureau. Syrian army squadrons are camping in Mankaa al Tufaah on the Syrian border where rebels are being trained. Route of infiltration in this area starts at Mankaa alTufah and continues through Deir el Ashayer, Khirbit Rouha (now a meeting centre of infiltration and rebels), Ba'lool, Lala, Ain Zebdi and then to the rebel Shouf district; Jumblat forces mainly come from Houran (in the Syrian region)."
Although the war took a toll of some 2,000 to 4,000 lives, it was regarded by many as a comic opera, especially when 5,000 United States Marines were landed on the beaches near Beirut and waded ashore among sunbathers and swimmers. The Marines' role, in a situation described by the Department of Defence as "like war but not war" was to support the legal Lebanese government against any foreign invasion, specifically against Syria. The Marines were summoned because General Shihab, commander of the Lebanese Army, believing that units of the small Lebanese army would mutiny and disintegrate if ordered into action, had disobeyed President Chamoun's orders to send in the army against leftist rebels.
Although the crisis passed quickly, it was a sign of things that were soon to come.
(On the crisis in general, see F.I.
in Lebanon (Washington, DC: Middle East Institute, 1961), pp.
For specific Syrian covert operations, see for instance, "Verhaftung
Syrischen Terroristen," Neue Züricher Zeitung, 27 June
"Le Deuxième Bureau Syrien aurait équipé
énvoye des sommes à Mouktara pour soutenir les
de M. Joumblatt," L'Orient, 13 July 1958; PRO, FO
Scott to FO, 2 September 1958.)
The 1975 - 1990 War
The Prelude to the 1975 War and the Cairo Agreement
Fouad Shihab became president after Camille Chamoun and although he built up the Lebanese intelligence service, called the Deuxième Bureau, the army was almost ignored and remained powerless, small, and was becoming weaker and weaker as time went on. The army's inactivity continued under Shihab's successor, Charles Helou, who became president in 1964. Helou and his army commander refused to commit Lebanese troops to the June 1967 war as an armitice agreement had been signed between the two countries in 1949 and the Lebanese Army was far too small and weak to get involved. This enraged many Lebanese Muslims as well as Syria, the mortal enemy of Israel. Immediately after the Arab defeat of 1967 Syria started sending Palestinian guerrillas into Lebanon to attack Israel. As soon as the PLO came to Lebanon, the violence that was to destroy the country began. The PLO set about attacking Israel from South Lebanon and the Israelis started to retaliated against them with the Lebanese becoming caught in the middle. Lebanese civilians in the south bore the brunt of the retaliations.
In December 1968, the Lebanese government was humiliated when Israeli commandos landed at Beirut International Airport and destroyed thirteen Middle East Airlines and TMA aircraft with impunity. The Israeli strike was in retaliation for a series of Palestinian hijackings carried out by Palestinian terrorists based in Lebanon. The Lebanese army did not interfere with Israeli attacks and so the army and the Deuxiéme Bureau, and the government were charged with collusion with Israel by the Lebanese left. Kamal Jumblatt led the anti government chorus and demanded that Lebanon supports the guerrillas .
A few months later, on 15 April 1969, fighting broke out again between the Lebanese Army and infiltrating guerrillas in the southern village of Deir Mimas. Disturbances were also recorded in several Palestinian camps. Four days later, another clash took place between army troops and armed Palestinians in the villages of ‘Odeiseh and Khiyam, resulting in several casualties. Demonstrations also took place in Beirut and in other major cities. On 22 April 1968 clashes were renewed in the south in which several guerrillas were injured and others detained. Clashes became recurrent as the number of guerrillas operating in Lebanon increased. According to Lebanese security sources, the number of guerrillas based in the south by mid-1969 was approximately 4000. The majority belonged to Sa’iqa and Fateh.
Confrontations with government authorities were part of a Fateh strategy to establish a permanent military presence in Lebanon. According to George Hawi the head of the Communist Party, Arafat was uncertain about the precarious state of affairs that prevailed in Jordan in 1969 as well as about the PLO’s ability to take over Jordan, as advocated by some Palestinian leaders. New alternatives had to be explored. One such alternative was to strengthen Fateh’s presence in Lebanon and create ‘new realities on the ground' especially since the situation seemed favourable both inside the camps and in the growing popular support for the PLO within the ranks of the Lebanese left wing parties.
The more serious clash, however, took place not in remote areas near the Lebanese—Israeli border but in Sidon and Beirut. No sooner had the country recovered from the Israeli raid than it found itself engulfed, in April 1969, in a crisis over the Palestinian problem in its Arab and Lebanese dimensions as opposed to the more predictable Israeli dimension. The occasion for turmoil was a demonstration called for by several Lebanese Leftist and Arab nationalist parties led by Kamal Jumblatt to protest against ‘the reactionary policies of the Lebanese government towards Fedayin action’ and to call for ‘the opening of southern borders for guerrilla operations against Israel'. On the surface, the demonstration looked like yet another episode of arm twisting between government authorities and pro-Palestinian groups. In reality, however, what happened was a Fateh-instigated confrontation with the Lebanese government. Such a confrontation would provoke a crisis which, in turn, would bring the issue of PLO armed presence into the open.
On the 23rd April in Sidon, armed demonstrators coming from Ayn al-Helweh camp stormed the municipality building in the city and clashed with security forces. In Beirut, the clash started in the Barbir area as demonstrators tried to force their way through internal security forces deployed on the scene. According to a Leftist activist who took part in the demonstration, shooting started when a man in his early twenties in sportswear walked towards the front row of the demonstration, about fifteen minutes after it started, and opened fire at the security forces. He then ran away as the security forces started shooting. In the process, two people were killed and many others were injured. While the identity of the agent provocateur was not known, it was clear that the intention was to provoke turmoil. Clearly, the demonstration and the bloody confrontations that followed in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and the Beqa were not an accidental show of force. Clashes resulted in 11 people dead, including five Lebanese security forces and more than 80 injured.
What made the demonstration qualitatively different was its political significance. It signalled, in the words of Mohsin Ibrahim head of the Organisation of Communist Action, ‘the decision to open the battle’ with the Lebanese government. Equally important was that it was viewed by the Left in Lebanon as a revolutionary event of unprecedented importance. For Lebanese Communist Party ideologue Mahdi ‘Amil, the ‘April 23 uprising’ (‘Intifada’) was a political and ideological achievement of ’historic significance’, with it, ‘Lebanon's class struggle began’ and a new political force was born ‘to break the hold of the bourgeoisie-controlled’ political system and ‘to protect the Palestinian Resistance.
Reacting to these events, the government imposed a four day nation-wide curfew. Several demonstrators were detained, including pro-Iraq Ba’th Party leader Abdul-Majid al-Rafi’. On 24 April, the Sunni prime minister, Rashid Karame resigned in a show of support for the Palestinians and the search for ways to end the crisis began. It was to continue for the next seven months until a formula of ‘coexistence’ between the Lebanese state and the Palestinian revolution was found.
On October 20, 1969 large numbers of Palestinain guerrillas began gathering on the western slopes of Mount Hermon in the Arqub region of Lebanon a few days later on the 29th these Palestinians fired on a Lebanese army patrol which resulted in the deaths of three Lebanese soldiers and the death one guerrilla with two injured. Imediatley Voice of Palestine broadcasts from Cairo started to warn the Lebanese not to interfere with Palestinain raids into Israel. Following the calsh a meeting was held on 16 November to discuss the matter. The meeting included the Lebanese Army commader Emile Boustany, Cheif of Staff Yusif Shmayet, Intelligence Chief Gaby Lahoud and representatives of Palestinian organisations. Palestinian officials stated that their intention was to attack targets in Israel and that to achieve this they needed to pass through Lebanese territory. To that Boustany replied that Lebanon would not allow such infiltrations. He then stated the Lebanese position on such military activities and stressed the following:
(i) Lebanon signed an armistice agreement with Israel in 1949; it was still in effect and Lebanon could not violate it; (ii) Military operations between Israel and the Arab countries are part of military strategy under the United Arab Command. Lebanon cannot allow turmoil on the Lebanese—Israeli border without co-ordination with that military body, and (iii) Attacks carried out by the Fedayin (guerrillas) from Lebanon would lead to violent Israeli retaliations against civilians in Lebanese villages.
The army and its Deuxième Bureau was not able to control the flow Palestinian guerrillas infiltrating Lebanon from Syria, an attitude that angered Christians who saw the Palestinian armed presence as a mortal threat to Lebanon.
Lebanon was still paralized as the President found it impossible to form a new government as the Sunni leadership refused to do so unless Lebanon started a policy of coordination with the PLO. That formula was the Cairo Agreement. The situation forced army commander General Emile Bustani to sign the an agreement in Cairo in November 1969 with Palestinian representatives. The Cairo Agreement granted to the Palestinians the right to keep weapons in their camps and to attack Israel across Lebanon's border and for their part the Plaestinians had to respect Lebanese laws and Lebanon's sovereignty. By sanctioning the armed Palestinian presence, however, Lebanon surrendered full sovereignty over military operations conducted within and across its borders and became a party to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Given the prevailing internal and regional considerations, the Cairo Agreement provided relief for all parties who regarded it as a face-saving arrangement and an expedient truce short of better alternatives. For most Christian leaders, the Cairo Agreement was the ‘lesser of two evils’. For Camille Chamoun, what counted were Palestinian intentions and their willingness to abide by the agreement when put to the test. Another Christian response was that of Pierre Gemayel who saw the Cairo Agreement as ‘a middle ground solution’ between two divergent views on the PLO in Lebanon. While acknowledging that military operations would eventually lead to Israeli raids, Gemayel explained that it ‘would still be easier to cope with such raids than with a civil war between the Lebanese’.
Raymond Eddé was the only Lebanese leader who had consistently opposed the notion of supporting the Palestinians and, subsequently, the Cairo Agreement. He never missed the opportunity to reiterate his position and to argue that such an arrangement hurt the interests of both Lebanon and the PLO. But Eddé’s views, and his call for the deployment of United Nations troops along the Lebanese—Israeli borders, went unheeded. Another strong reaction to the Cairo Agreement came from Maronite Patriarch Méouchy, who submitted a memorandum to the president in which he voiced concern over the military provisions of the agreement.
Those who stood to benefit most from the outcome of the events that marked the stormy year of 1969 were Kamal Jumblatt, Leftist parties and, in a different way, the Sunni political establishment. Indeed, the Cairo Agreement met the demands voiced by the Sunni political and religious leadership. On the eve of the Cairo talks, Sunni Mufti Hassan Khalid convened two meetings attended by Lebanon’s leading political and religious figures and issued a statement calling for the freedom of guerrilla action. An attempt tp convene a meeting by Shiite cleric Musa al-Sadr in support of the guerrillas was not successful as the meeting was boycotted by leading Shiite figures.
For his role in forcing through the Cairo Agreement Jumblatt was rewarded with the post of interior minister by Rashid Karame. Jumblatt proceeded by replacing the army presence in the camps with internal security forces who were under his command and was therefore able to assist them in their arms build-up.
Nearly three weeks after the signing of the agreement clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army were renewed this time in the Nabatiyeh camp in the south. The Cairo Agreement was violated from the start and it became irrelevant.
Beginning in 1970, Palestinian-Israeli raids in the south intensified, as did the clashes between the Lebanese Army and the guerrillas. One of the early clashes after the Cairo Agreement occurred in March 1970 in the south, resulting in several casualties. Violence began to drive local inhabitants to seek shelter outside their villages, particularly in the suburbs of Beirut.
Demonstrations were held in Beirut to protest the policies of the Lebanese government towards Arab causes’ and the Palestinian revolution. The confusing setting of Arab politics was clearly apparent in the slogans the demonstrators raised, comparing President Helou to Nun al-Said, Iraq’s strong man under the Hashernite monarchy, and calling for his overthrow.
A serious confrontation involving PLO guerrillas occurred in March 1970. Clashes began in the Maronite town of Kahhaleh and spread immediately to the outskirts of Beirut. While disturbances lasted only three days, they had unprecedented confessional overtones.
The incident began on 25 March, following an exchange of gunfire between Palestinians escorting a convoy of cars passing through the Christian town of Kahhaleh (located on the major Beirut-Damascus road) on their way to Damascus to bury a Palestinian commando officer. On their way back, the Palestinian convoy, which was larger and more heavily armed than the previous one, came under heavy fire as it passed through the main road in the town. Gunfire went on for forty-five minutes and resulted in several casualties.
Immediately after the incident, attempts at reconciliation began. Jumblatt, in his capacity as minister of the interior, conferred with delegations representing the Palestinians and representatives of the inhabitants of Kahhaleh. Despite these efforts, fighting spread to other areas around Palestinian camps in the areas of Dikwaneh and Harit Hreik. In these two localities, largely populated by Christians of lower and middle class backgrounds the guerrillas had already begun to expand their military presence outside the camps where they would set up roadblocks and harass passers-by. In Dikwaneh, where the Tal-Zatar camp was located, Palestinian guerrillas raided a local office of the Kataeb Party. But more importantly they kidnapped Pierre Gemayel’s younger son, Bashir, who, at the time, was not yet directly involved in party politics. Although Gemayel, along with his two companions, were released the same day from a Fateh office on Hamra street, the symbolic significance of the episode was clear. From that day Bashir Gemayel would get involved in politics.
In the summer of 1970 Sulayman Franjieh (also Frangieh) was elected president. Believing that the Deuxième Bureau was staffed with Shihab loyalists, Franjieh purged it and stripped it of its powers. But the Deuxième Bureau had been the only governmental entity capable of monitoring and controlling the Palestinians, and Franjieh's action unintentionally gave the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), commanded by Yasser Arafat, more freedom of action in Lebanon. Franjieh, who came from Zgharta in northern Lebanon, was accused of promoting his own power and catering to the interests of his clansmen instead of confronting Lebanon's growing security problems. Meanwhile, the PLO made a bid to topple Jordan's King Hussein, but it was crushed and evicted from the country after fierce fighting, an event known in the Palestinian lexicon as "Black September." Therefore, the PLO leadership and guerrillas moved their main base of operations from Jordan to Lebanon, where the Cairo Agreement endorsed their presence. The influx of several hundred thousand Palestinians including many tens of thousands of guerrillas upset Lebanon's delicate confessional balance, and polarized the nation into two groups, those who supported and those who opposed the PLO presence.
Public order deteriorated with daily acts of violence between Christians and Palestinians. To counter Christian political resistance the PLO set about isolating the Christian community and distorting Christian image and goals. The Christians were branded as isolationists, traitors, rightists, fascists, anti Arab, and Israeli collaborators. The PLO media machine which controlled most of the press activity of Beirut did such a fine job distorting the truth about their Lebanese opponents that to this day the Lebanese Christians are having difficulty in shaking off the isolationist label given to them by the PLO.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force launched raids against the Palestinian refugee camps in retaliation for PLO terrorist attacks in Western Europe. On April 10, 1973, Israeli commandos infiltrated Beirut in a daring raid and attacked Palestinian command centres in the heart of the capital, killing three prominent PLO leaders: Kamal Nasir, poet and the PLO's official spokesman; Muhammad al-Najjar, head of the Higher Political Committee for Palestinian Affairs in Lebanon, member of the PLO Executive Committee and Fateh Central Committee; and Kamal Udwan, also a member of the Fateh Central Committee. The absence of the Lebanese Army during the Israeli attack angered Lebanese Muslims. Prime Minister Saib Salam claimed that Army commander General Alexander Ghanim--a Maronite--had disobeyed orders by not resisting the Israeli raid, and he threatened to resign unless Ghanim were stripped of his rank. Because Ghanim was allowed to remain as army commander (until he was replaced by Hanna Said in September 1975), Salam did resign and was succeeded by a series of weak prime ministers.
Friction between the guerrillas and the security forces increased rapidly thereafter. On April 14 1973 the US-owned oil terminus at Zahrani was bombed, allegedly by the PFLP-GC; on April 27 three men were arrested with explosives at Beirut airport, where a bomb was found the next day; on April 30 several armed DFLP members were arrested as they drove past the US Embassy. In response, two Lebanese soldiers were kidnapped on May 1st which finally forced the Lebanese Army into action against the PLO. The refugee camps were then surrounded and attacked by the army. In response to Palestinian shelling of the airport, the Lebanese Air Force was ordered into action against the Burj al-Barajina camp in Beirut. A state of emergency was declared throughout the country.
As the fighting intensified, the PLO appealed to external allies for support. Algeria, Libya, and Syria promptly condemned the Lebanese government's actions. All three, together with Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, and the Arab League offered to mediate. Egypt and Syria-now planning what would become the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War-were particularly anxious to contain the conflict, and exerted considerable pressure to that end. This included the closure of the Syrian-Lebanese border on May 8, and the movement of Fateh and Sa'iqa forces from Syria to a few kilometers inside Lebanon. Fearing a Syrian invasion, the Lebanese looked for a way to end the fighting.
On May 17, after some seventeen hours of negotiation, the two sides announced that they had reached agreement, the "Melkart Protocol". This Melkart Agreement, on the one hand obligated the PLO to respect the "independence, stability, and sovereignty" of Lebanon but on the other hard gave the PLO virtual autonomy, including the right to maintain its own militia forces in certain areas of Lebanon. These provisions of the Melkart Agreement differed greatly from the Cairo Agreement, which preserved the "exercise of full powers in all regions and in all circumstances by Lebanese civilian and military authorities."
Lebanese Muslims believed that under the Melkart Agreement Palestinian refugees in Lebanon had been accorded a greater degree of self-determination than some Lebanese citizens. Inspired by this, they organized themselves politically and militarily and encouraged by the Palestinians tried to wrest similar concessions from the central government. In 1974 Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt established the Lebanese National Movement (formerly the Front for Progressive Parties and National Forces), an umbrella group comprising antigovernment forces.
A military build-up was underway. Following the 1969 events, Kataeb Party members were involved in occasional military training. The turning point, however, occurred after the 1973 confrontations between the Lebanese army and PLO forces, when Christian-based parties began to acquire heavy weapons and were engaged in organised training. The most organised and disciplined Christian-based party was the Kataeb. With its para-military structure and large following in various parts of the country, the Kataeb Party was, as Frank Stoakes indicated, ‘a valuable auxiliary of the state’ and always ready to come to its defence in times of crisis.’ Other parties began to organise militarily, notably Chamoun’s National Liberal Party and a small elitist group of young professionals called al-Tanzim, headed by physician Dr. Fouad Chemali and Georges Adouan.
Lebanese parties, of all persuasions, Christian and Muslim, Left and Right, lagged behind the PLO. Not only did they lack a similar military and security infrastructure, they had limited financial resources. Leftist and Muslim-based parties operated closely with the PLO and received heavy financial and military support from Arab countries, notably Libya, Syria and Iraq. Christian-based parties, for their part, relied mainly on private financial support. They also received military assistance, beginning in 1973, from the Lebanese army, which consisted of training and light weapons.
On the eve of the war in 1975 the military balance in the country was largely in favour of the PLO. Of the eight PLO organisations, with a total strength of 22,900 troops, Fateh had the largest number of fighters (7,000) and was the best equipped, followed by Saiqa (4,500). The fighting force of other major organisations was of almost equal size, numbering about 2500 each. The distribution of armed men in seven major camps in October 1975 was as follows: al-Rashidiyeh (7,300), Ayn al-Helweh (4,500), Tal-Za’tar (3,225), Shatila (2,500), Nahr al-Band (1,700), al-Burj al-Shimali (1,625) and Borj al-Barajneh (1,300). Therefore, the largest concentration was in the south and the Beirut area.
The Lebanese army was 19,000 strong. Only about half that number was a fighting force. The largest number of militiamen was that of the Kataeb Party (8,000), followed by the Lebanese Communist Party and the Progressive Socialist Party (5,000 each) and by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the National Liberal Party (4,000 each). Leftist, nationalist and Muslim-based parties, which were part of the LNM, had a total number of 18,700 militiamen and with the PLO the anti government forces numbered some 41,600 while Christian-based parties had 12,000. The break up of the army made the ratio worse for the Christian based parties as the result was 46,600 left wing troops against 15,000 right wing troops.
"My country's history, Mr. President, tells us that it is possible to fashion unity while cherishing diversity, that common action is possible despite the variety of races, interests, and beliefs we see here in this chamber. Progress and peace and justice are attainable. So we say to all peoples and governments: Let us fashion together a new world order." - Henry Kissinger, in address before the General Assembly of the United Nations, October 1975
Many claim that the crisis in Lebanon was brought about by Henry Kissinger. In the 50's and 60's Henry Kissinger served in the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA as an advisor. By the time war broke out in Lebanon he was Secretary of State. He published widely read papers and books, including "Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy" and "The Necessity For Choice." In all his jobs however he was the front man for the Council on Foreign Relations. His diplomatic victories astounded the world: negotiating the settlement of the Vietnam War, limiting the aftermath of the wars between Israel and the surrounding nations, and restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and China. He was hailed as "The Man of Wonder," and the news media even proposed Henry Kissinger be elected "President of Planet Earth."
Henry Kissinger's involvement with the Council on Foreign Relations and the "New World Order" as he puts it has been well documented for many years. However, little is known of his role in the Middle East and how he has influenced the events there to help the New World Order gain control over this area of the world by attempting to execute what has been widely refered to as the "Kissinger Plan".
From the beginning with the oil crises of the 1970s, the United States began selling arms, and creating military alliances in the Gulf in and attempted to increase its influence in the region. James Akins, a former U.S. diplomat and ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first oil crisis in 1973, called it the "Kissinger Plan." In short, the Kissinger Plan outlined how the Gulf oil fields should be taken over in order to solve U.S. domestic economic and political problems. Akins learned of the Kissinger Plan when he read an article about it in a 1975 issue of Harper's magazine. Although he admits that the substance of the article must have come from a deep background briefing, he went on television and pronounced the plan to be the work of "either a madman, a criminal, or an agent of the Soviet Union." He was fired later that year after learning that the background briefing had been conducted by his boss, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
The Kissinger Plan was a plan to reshape the the Middle East in a way that suited Kissinger's new world order and was not limited to the GUlf but also involved Lebanon and Israel.
The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met Kissinger when he was the U.S. secretary of state and Rabin served as the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. from 1968-1972. It was during this time that they built a strong friendship and later Rabin would state that Kissinger was his role model.
During the Yom Kippur War, Kissinger refused to supply much-needed arms to Israel unless Golda Meir resigned as prime minister and supported Rabin as the next Labor Party candidate for the post. At that time, Rabin had never even been a Knesset member and was listed far down on Labor's Knesset list. After the war, Meir appointed Rabin as Minister of Labor and supported his candidacy for party chairman, paving his way to become prime minister in 1974.
During his first term as premier, Rabin and Kissinger redrew the map of the Middle East, which included Lebanon being absorbed by Syria. It was this plan which reportedly caused Ariel Sharon to resign as Defense Minister under Rabin's government. Many claim that the Lebanese war instigated in order to accomplish this goal by allowing Syria to enter and annex Lebanon. The Palestinians would then settle in Lebanon and the the State of Israel would have its problems solved. The surviving Lebanese Christians, small in number, would be resettled in the West, primerily in Canada and France.
Whatever the truth behind the Kissinger plan, the Lebanese were not about to stand by and allow the PLO and their Arabs allies to take Lebanon without a fight.
In a memorandum submitted to the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies on 7th November 1975 by the Standing Conference of the Superior-Generals of the Monastic Orders of Lebanon, they state:
'The Palestinian resistance interfere in Lebanese politics, in alliance with such groups as it believes can be of advantage to it, and openly try to bring them to power by calling upon them to cause disturbances even such as involve the use of arms, using external pressure on the Lebanese state through certain Arab countries when it seems to be in its interest to extract from the Lebanese authorities such privileges as have not been extracted before. The resistance also believes itself entitled to call openly upon the Lebanese to deny their political system, impeding the normal course of the constitutional and administrative institutions (the army, for example) by openly appealing to one or other of the Arab countries, which then pours in its money to direct the information media (and the press in particular) as it wishes, and, indeed, to mold them and to undermine their national role so as to suppress the expression of any opinion favorable to Lebanon in its own interest, providing a base and a refuge for international terrorism which can only be injurious to Lebanon."
A year later, on 14th October 1976 Edward Ghorra, the Lebanese AmbAssador to the United Nations described the actions of the Palestinians to the UN General Assembly:
"The Palestinians had transformed most, if not all, of the refugee camps into military bastions around our major cities. Moreover, common-law criminals fleeing from Lebanese justice find shelter and protection in the camps. Palestinian elements belonging to various splinter organizations resorted to kidnapping Lebanese and sometimes foreigners, holding them prisoner, questioning them, and even killing them. They committed all sorts of crimes in Lebanon and also escaped Lebanese justice in the protection of the camps. They smuggled goods into Lebanon and openly sold them on our streets. They went so far as to demand protection money from many individuals and owners of buildings and factories situated in the vicinity of the camps."
Even strong supporters of the PLO had been moved to comment on the behavior of the Palestinians. In his book, I Speak for Lebanon, written in 1977 shortly before his death, Kamal Jumblat the main ally of the Palestinians in Lebanon wrote:
"It has to be said that the Palestinians themselves, by violating Lebanese law, bearing arms as they chose and policing certain important points of access to the capital, actually furthered the plot that had been hatched against them. They carelessly exposed themselves to criticism and even to hatred. High officials and administrators were occasionally stopped and asked for their identity papers by Palestinian patrols. From time to time, Lebanese citizens and foreigners were arrested and imprisoned, on the true or false pretext of having posed a threat to the Palestinian revolution. Such actions were, at first, forgiven, but became increasingly difficult to tolerate. Outsiders making the law in Lebanon, armed demonstrations and ceremonies, military funerals for martyrs of the revolution, it all mounted up and began to alienate public opinion, especially conservative opinion, which was particularly concerned about security.... I never saw a less discreet, less cautious revolution."
It is interesting to note that throughout the war, and despite the close alliance between the Druze PSP and the Palestinians, the PSP would not permit the stationing of significant numbers of Palestinian troops in Druze-held areas of the Shuf Mountains.
Trouble began to brew very early in 1975 when a Lebanese Army barracks in Tyre was hit by 8 rockets fired from a nearby Palestinian camp on January 20th. Matters came to a head in February 1975 when the Lebanese Communist Party and other leftists organized violent demonstrations in Sidon on behalf of fishermen who were threatened economically by a state monopoly fishing company. The Lebanese Army was called in to restore order, but, in the volatile atmosphere, armed clashes erupted. Muslim politicians protested that the use of the army was a violation of the demonstrators' democratic liberties and asked why the army was shooting at civilians rather than defending Lebanon's borders against Israeli incursions. Sunni leaders also faulted the channels used for ordering the army into action. General Ghanim had assumed charge of the army's conduct and reported directly to President Franjieh, ignoring Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Rashid as Sulh (also seen as Solh). Meanwhile, thousands of students in mainly Christian East Beirut demonstrated in support of the army. These serious splits were exacerbated when Maruf Saad, a pro-Palestinian Sunni populist leader, died in March of wounds suffered during the Sidon clashes. Long-standing concerns that the army would disintegrate if it were called into action were vindicated when intense fighting broke out between Maronite and Muslim army recruits.
The various nationalistic, pro government, mainly Christian parties as they watched the authority of the Lebanese government collapse, organized themselves into militias in an attempt to counter the threat from the Palestinian presence. These various parties such as the Phalange, the Ahrar, Etienne Sakr's Guardians of the Cedars, and George Adwan's Tanzim, realizing that they were out numbered and out gunned combined politically and formed the Lebanese Front.
On April 13, 1975, unidentified Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a congregation outside a Maronite church in Ayn ar Rummeneh, a Christian suburb of Beirut. Later in the day, members of the Christian Phalange Party ambushed a bus filled with Palestinians that had overrun a check point, claiming 26 dead. According to the Phalange version of events, the bus contained armed Palestinian Arab Liberation Front guerillas, firing weapons. Some PLO accounts describe the passengers as civilians and other reports as guerrilla trainees. However, the Phalangist version was confirmed by Abd al-Rahim Ahmad of the Palestinian ALF who stated in an interview in Amman, 28th December 1986, that those on the bus were indeed armed Palestinian ALF members. That night, at 10 pm, mortar shells slammed into Ayn ar Rummanah catching the people by surprise. The next day saw hit and run raids against the Lebanese Army by Palestinian groups led by the DFLP and also fighting between the Phalangists and the Palestinians which resulted in around 35 deaths and by the April 15 a full artillery duel had started in Beirut. One of Lebanon's many cease fires was announced on April 16 but was not to last. Within the next couple of days heavy fighting resumed between the Palestinian forces and the Lebanese Front. Kamal Jumblatt and hs leftist allies voiced continuous support for the Palestinians.
While death and torture were suffered in the streets, the political battle went on, most heatedly between Pierre Gemayel and Kamal Jumblatt. Jumblatt drew up a list of fourteen demands. They included one that Lebanon be declared an Arab state, another that the Christians give an undertaking not to indulge in any ‘confessional provocation’, another that ‘full respect’ be paid to the ‘Palestinian movement’, and a yet another demand was that two Maronite ministers resign and it was to this demand only, Pierre Gemayel agreed. The result was that the government fell. Therefore, on May 23, Franjieh took the unorthodox and unprecedented step of appointing a military cabinet. Muslim Brigadier Nur ad Din Rifai, retired commander of the Internal Security Force, was named prime minister. Rifai selected the controversial Ghanim as his minister of defence; all other cabinet ministers except one were also military officers.
Franjieh's motives were difficult to discern. Some believed his move was part of a plot to cement Maronite dominance of the government. Others believed he was attempting to force the recalcitrant army to intervene in the fighting. Perhaps Franjieh sincerely thought that a strong inter confessional military government with unquestionable authority over the army could avert widespread conflict, although Lebanon's democracy would be sacrificed. Indeed, Syrian foreign minister Abdal Halim Khaddam reportedly warned Lebanese politicians that the Lebanese Army was capable of uniting its ranks, staging a coup d'état, and imposing a military dictatorship.
Nevertheless, Lebanon's first and last military government was short lived, resigning two days after its inception. Rashid Karame, the man who had forced the Cairo Agreement upon Lebanon became prime minister once again. Even when installed in the government, the army proved unwilling or incapable of exerting authority in Lebanon. The resignation of the military government demonstrated the power vacuum in Lebanese politics and served as the catalyst to conflict. From June to September a six-man cabinet ‘ruled’ by emergency powers. Officially a ceasefire prevailed, but there were constant outbreaks of fighting. Hundreds of acts of terrorism were perpetrated against the Christians, kidnappings, murders and mutilations. The Kataeb interpreted the terrorism as part of the plan to keep the hate, the desire for revenge, the sectarian hostilities alive and active. They believed that criminals were hired to do this work: by whom they could only conjecture, but their suspicions fell on Iraq and Libya.
By September fighting resumed and soon clashes erupted in the Christian city of Zahle in the Beqaa and in the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city. In both places, clashes were instigated by skirmishes between armed individuals. By then, tension was so high that even the slightest verbal exchange between two armed individuals was sufficient to provoke violence which would quickly spread to various parts of the country. In Zahle, local armed men clashed with heavily armed Palestinian guerrillas who for some bizarre reason were trying to enter Zahle. The fighting continued for several days and resulted in the deaths of twenty-eight people and the injury of many others. The more serious confrontation occurred in Tripoli and spread to surrounding localities.
Heavy fighting was soon to erupt between Tripoli and Zgharta. Clashes here were instigated by a car accident involving a driver from Tripoli and another from the neighbouring Maronite town of Zgharta. This led to the shooting of the Muslim driver from Tripoli. Soon afterwards armed men in Tripoli began kidnapping Christians from Zgharta. In retaliation, armed men from Suleiman Frangieh's Zgharta based militia Marada, commanded by his son Tony, set up roadblocks on the outskirts of Tripoli and did their share of kidnapping. This wave of violence was temporarily contained following the release of the detainees. The next day clashes erupted in Tripoli as Palestinians, seeking an escallation, attacked Lebanese army positions, a Lebanese army barracks in the city was even the target of direct shelling from Palestinian positions. Eighteen soldiers were injured. Three Greek Orthodox priests were also kidnapped that day in Tripoli, but were later released. Shelling and rumours of kidnapping and counter-kidnapping kept many armed individuals alert. Disturbances broke out in the nearby Kura region, where skirmishes took place between Zgharta armed men of Marada and supporters of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party. As local leaders succeeded in containing the Kura feud, another violent incident occurred in Darayya, near Tripoli. A bus carrying kidnapped people back to Tripoli, as part of the exchange agreement made between Zgharta and Tripoli leaders, was fired upon by an armed man from the Frangiyeh family, killing twelve and injuring seven others. The assailant had just learned of the killing of his brother in Tripoli.
Heavy fighting spread to the outskirts of Tripoli as Palestinains tlaunched an assualt against Zgharta. Permanent demarcation lines separating the Palestinians attacking from Tripoli and the Marada defending Zgharta were now in place. Attacks and counterter-attacks in which Palestinians took part alongside leftists Tripoli militiamen continued for several days, as did the sectarian killings. Palestinian guerillas belonging to the factions of George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh entered the village of Beit Mellat (Millat) in north Lebanon and started killing civilians and the moved on to Deir Ayache on 3rd September 1975. Three old monks aged 60, 78, and 93, the only occupants of the monastery of Deir Ayache were ritually murdered, the Christian occupants of the village managed to flee but their village was destroyed. Two days later, the small Maronite village in ‘Akkar, Beit Mellat, was tacked again by Palestinian gunmen who went on the rampage, destroying property, killing several people. Further confrontations took place in the region, notably an attack on the Christian town of Qbayyat in ‘Akkar many of whose inhabitants served in the Lebanese army. The town was besieged. The siege of the town provoked a strong protests and a rebellion by officers and soldiers from Qbayyat based in an army barracks in Jounieh who wanted to deploy and halt the fighting.
Emergency cabinet meetings were held and when Christian ministers insisted on the army to be sent into action to restore order the Muslim ministers objected stating that they did not want the army to get involved in action against Lebanese citizens. Finally it was agreed that army would set up a buffer zone between Tripoli and Zgharta. Unhappy with the use of Lebanese army units, Kamal Jumblatt, who had emerged as the leader of the leftist alliance, called for nation wide Muslim protest strikes.
A few days later, on the night of September 14, 1975, army troops clashed with several armed followers of Faruq Muqaddam, the leader of a Tripoli-based Fateh-backed guerrillas. Fourteen guerrillas were killed. The incident occurred while armed men attempted to force the way through an army checkpoint on their way back to Tripoli after they had tacked a beach resort near Tripoli, owned by a man from the Frangieh family The next day several Christian-owned shops and houses in Tripoli belonging individuals from Zgharta were bombed and looted. At this stage, Karame, while still opposed to army intervention, called upon the Syria controlled Palestine Liberation Army to bring order to the city. Karame’s decision was taken at a meeting of cabinet ministers in the Sérail, without informing the president. Also upon Karame’s request three guerrilla battalions were transferred from the south to Tripoli. Far from restoring order, these units joined the assault against Christian Zgharta and as a result hundreds Kataeb troops were rushed from Beirut to help Marada in the defence of Zgharta. Offensives against Zgharta would be launched many times over the following months but Zgharta refused to fall.
Deeply divided, ineffective and weak, the government by now ruled only on paper. Christian leaders saw one last alternative to halt the process of disintegration: a forceful intervention by the army.
As a consession to Karame, Frangieh replaced army commander General Alexander Ghanim with a low-key officer, and having agreed to restructure the army command, Frangieh and other Maronite leaders hoped that Karame and other Sunni leaders would support a forceful army intervention, particularly in Beirut and Tripoli. But this was not forthcoming. But even if some Sunni leaders were willing to support a limited army intervention in Beirut, Jumblatt and the PLO-supported Left were categorically opposed to any kind of army action. Shiite leaders, for their part, were in favour of army intervention. For Musa al-Sadr, the army intervention in Tripoli was ‘a natural and proper measure'.
Faced by a strong Sunni—Leftist opposition even to a limited army intervention, Maronite leaders took matters into their own hands and went on the offensive. Pierre Gemayel who for months had been asking the government to deploy the army to restore order, issued an ultimatum on 16th September. If the army did not immediately go into action, the Phalange would have to take matters into their own hands. The next day the Phalange launched an offensive into central Beirut in an attempt to restore order.
The Sacking of Downtown Beirut
Although over 1,000 people were killed in the early fighting, many Lebanese still viewed the nascent war as a transitory phenomenon that would soon abate, like past security crises. Up until now, the war had mainly been a Palestinian and Lebanese Front affair but events took a sudden turn for the worse when well organized leftist Muslim militias sided with the Palestinians and attacked the downtown Kantari (Qantari) district in late October 1975, causing heavy loss of life and massive property damage, many inhabitants of Beirut realized for the first time that the war was a serious affair. The Palestinians and leftists eventually took Kantari and occupied the forty story Murr Tower, the highest building in Beirut.
Now that the leftist National Movement openly joined Fatah; the carnage was massive. Deaths from the fighting averaged about fifty a day. National Movement fighters and youths from the camps looted and destroyed the stores in the heart of Beirut. Dead and mutilated bodies lay everywhere in public places: corpses of sexually violated women and children, and of men with their genitals cut off and stuffed into their mouths. Shop windows were shattered and their contents looted by a multitude of beggars, many of them small ragged boys out of the camps, who would offer the goods for sale on the streets, wildly setting their own prices on items whose value they could not imagine. Garbage piled up in the streets. Piped water and electric power were cut off more often than not. People were afraid to leave their apartments and seek safety elsewhere, knowing they would lose everything to the looters, who would even tear window frames and plumbing fixtures out of the walls.
To add to the terror and destruction, the Syrian based Palestinian guerrilla group, Sa’iqa, began its own campaign of bomb explosions in the commercial centre of the city. As this was a mixed area, its targets were indiscriminate. PLO offices and men were hit. It was the covert beginning of a direct Syrian assault on the weakening state. Before the end of 1975, President Assad had started to deploy the Yarmouk and Hittin brigades of the PLA as well as Egyptian based 'Ayn Jalout Bridage' in the Beqaa in support of the Palestinians and the LNM. Syria's role in the fighting was tipping the military balance even more in favour of the PLO. Syrian troops had already been active in fighting alongside PLO units in the north of Lebanon.
After the battle was of Kantari was over the two sides settled down to desultory exchanges of fire in a pattern that was to become familiar over the months — reserving the nights for the real attempts to take territory or score victories. Soon a huge pall of smoke rose over the commercial district of the city, a mile to the east. This was the area of warehouses, banks, airline offices, the Bourse, all the myriad facets of the service economy on which Beirut depended. It was the area, too, of the souks, the labyrinth of narrow streets each housing all the practitioners of the same trade. There was the vegetable souk, the clothes souk, the meat souk and so on. Above all, there was the gold souk, two glittering streets where every shop front was a treasure house of bangles and rings, chains, lockets and precious stones. Many of the gold dealers were Armenians, there were a few Jews, and some Maronites. In the other souks, Moslems and Christians traded side by side. But whatever the religion of the stall-holders and shop-keepers, everyone recognized that the souks played a major part in the economic life of the city. Local people did all their shopping there, it was a regular attraction for tourists, and the traders imported and exported as well as carrying on their retail business. By any standards, the souks of Beirut belonged to everyone and were of benefit to everyone. Now the souks began to be ravaged by looters from all sides.
The Phalangists then began pouring in mortars and rockets into the souk district, raking the shops with heavy machine-gun fire from their positions only a hundred or so yards away, and doing everything they could to destroy the area in what seemd to be a scourched earth policy. It seemed senseless, though in fact it was part of the general Phalangist strategy. Their aim in Beirut was not only the classic military concept of destroying the enemy—the Left-wing forces and the Palestinians—it was also to involve as many people on their side as possible. In particular, the Phalangists wanted the Army brought into the fighting.
The Lebanese Army, a mere twelve thousand strong, was still the most powerful force in the country, with tanks, armoured cars, personnel carriers, artillery and all the other equipment any modern army must have. It was the one properly organized group, with a command structure, good communications, adequate reserves of ammunition, and men who were well-trained and obedient. The Phalangist calculation was plain, though it was never spelt out. If the Army could be embroiled, then no matter how much its neutrality was proclaimed, or even if the Command did actually try to remain impartial, inevitably the troops would be forced to fight on the side of the Phalangist militia—the experience of half a dozen different clashes in the past had shown that this was always the case. Afterall, the Lebanese right was fighting to preserve Lebanon and the Lebanese way of life while the lefist pan Arabists were fighting to destroy Lebanon. The Phalange felt that sooner or later the army would have to join them and the sooner the better.
Rashid Karami, the Sunni Moslem Prime Minister had set his face firmly against any involvement of the military. At the end of the 1958 war, only two institutions of the State had emerged unscathed and had formed the basis on which the country had been able to build anew: the Presidency and the Army. The Prime Minister knew that if he did unleash the Army in Beirut he would be accused by all Moslems in the country of siding with the Right, and would lose what influence he still had. On these two counts Karami was determined that the Army should stay out; so, despite the pleas of the Right-wing members of his own cabinet, led by Camille Chamoun, the Minister of the Interior, and the wanton destruction being spread by the Phalange, Karami held out against the pressures and refused to give the orders which would have permitted the Army to move.
The destruction of the souks went on, with fires smouldering by day and new salvoes of mortar bombs and rockets crashing in by night. The hard-pressed Beirut fire brigade tried to put out the worst blazes, but the frequently heroic firemen could do little. Often they could get nowhere near the fires because of constant sniper fire, deliberately aimed at them by one side or the other to ensure the destruction of some particular place. There was the beginning, too, of the division of the city which was soon to become complete, and the discrimination based on the religion of a man shown on his identity card.
So all over the commercial district and even in the port, the fires raged unchecked as both sides joined in the orgy of destruction started in this particular case by the Phalangists, as they tried to pursue their strategic aim, through a deliberate scorched earth policy which probably caused as much damage to their own supporters and members as it did to the property of their opponents.
But one souk would not be allowed to be destroyed. Somehow, the gold souk had to be saved and on both sides of the line the powerful men who owned the shops were applying pressure. It was a demonstration of another facet of the Lebanese situation, now Moslem and Christian owners of shops in the gold souks joined with Jews and Armenians to plead with both sides to save their capital and their livelihood. Their powerful collective voice was listened to with respect, and soon a commando group of the Lebanese Army, one-hundred-and-fifty-strong, was on its way to the souk under a promise of safe conduct and no molestation from either side. The soldiers got there just in time, for others, too, had heard of the plans to clear the treasure from the souk. As the soldiers were hurrying by back ways to the entrance to the souk at the top of the Place des Martyrs, a fifty strong band of gangsters had shot their way in, killing the few guards still on duty and braving the fire of the Phalange on one side of the square and the Leftists on the other. While most of the robbers took up positions ready to hold off anyone who tried to interfere, others tore off the shutters of the shops or blasted their way in with dynamite. They were hastily filling sacks with gold ornaments as the Army arrived. And in this first engagement it was the Army which quickly came off best. The soldiers, with their armoured vehicles, could go right up to the entrance to the souk with impunity as they poured in machine-gun and cannon fire. Within minutes those thieves who were not killed had fled, and the Army had scored a notable victory in a dubious cause.
Under the protection of the guns of the military, the waiting merchants arrived to load their treasure into cars and trucks. Many of them were unwilling to take such a tempting cargo far, so they did no more than drive half a mile to the main office of the British Bank of the Middle East. There they hastily packed their gold into the strong-boxes that they had previously rented, then went on their way carrying only a few items they thought they might be able to sell in the makeshift souks which were beginning to appear in other parts of the city.
The fighting in the mainly Muslim western side of the city intensified as the PLO and the LNM battled against the Kataeb. The commander-in-chief of the Kataeb, Pierre Gemayel’s son Bachir, moved his men into the tourists’ hotel quarter of the city near the sea front, to try to defend the harbour and the business centre against the LNM and the PLO. Therefore in late 1975 and early 1976, fierce fighting engulfed Beirut's high rise hotel district, this fighting was a logical consequence of the leftist sacking of the Kantari district.
The expanded scope and intensity of the combat increased casualties greatly, with over 1,000 killed in the first weeks of the new year, 1976.
Check Point Killings and Black Saturday
In the first week of the war some hundreds of motorists, halted in a traffic jam in Beirut at a Palestinian check point, witnessed the execution of a man by the PLO. The captors and their victim stood on a piece of open ground at the side of the Avenue Sami al-Solh. Other captured Lebanese, probably Maronite, were guarded by Fedayeen armed with ‘klashens’ (AK47s). The captives’ hands were tied behind their backs. One was singled out for special attention. Around his neck the PLO militiamen tied sticks of explosives. People in their cars looked and waited uneasily for the arrival of the special police in red berets whose business it was to deal with violent incidents in the streets, but they did not appear. One witness amongst hundreds, Janet Wakin, the respected American wife of businessman George Wakin reported 'the victim stood still, with strange quietness and dignity’, while the fedayeen prepared literally to blow his head off. They set a fuse, and ran back from the man, who continued to stand where he was, quite still, until the explosion came. Not only was he decapitated, but the rest of his body was blown to pieces. News of this sent shock waves across Lebanon's communities casuing the wat to rapidily take on a sectarian character.
On the 30 May 1975 an incident occured that was to start the darkest and perhaps the most horrific aspect of the Lebanese war. In retaliation for the death of a Palestinian in east Beirut, 30 Christian civilians were rounded up in west Beirut, most dragged out of cars, and murdered in cold blood on the street. This was the first major check point massacre of civilians in the war and started a vicious cycle of kidnapping, revenge and retaliation.
Districts of Beirut became ‘no go’ areas for all but those whose religion let them in. A person’s religion was enough to condemn him or her to abduction, humiliation, rape, mutilation or murder. It was not long before a brisk trade in false identity papers was underway. A person moving through the city, and before long anywhere in the country, might depend for his or her life on correctly identifying which roadblock lay ahead, getting the right papers ready to show the militiamen (many of them boys in their early teens), and remembering whether to give a Christian or a Muslim name. Often those who made mistakes were killed on the spot.
The next major event of this murderous cycle was on December 6, 1975, "Black Saturday". Four Christians were murdered and one wounded in a car outside the Lebanese Electricity Company headquarters in east Beirut by a Muslim militia raiding party. They had been hacked by axes in a most brutal way and shot. These murders took place on the eve of Pierre Gemayel's visit to Damascus. A Lebanese reporter by the name of Joe Saady was the father of one those murdered and some weeks before he had lost his other son who had been abducted from his racing car during a rally and murdered. When news that his other son had been murdered reached him Joe Saady went on the rampage and started randomly stopping cars and killing Muslim occupants.
For many Phalangists (Kataeb) fighters this was the least straw, they wanted retaliation for this and numerous other recent acts of terror against the civilians of East Beirut. Discipline completely collapsed as Phalangist fighters set up a road block on the ring road and also started killing Muslims. Other fighters went to the port area and started killing Muslim dock workers. There are reports in some sources that the revenge murders started because the Gemayels had ordered the killing of 40 Muslims in retaliation for the 4 dead Christians but it would seem that such reports are untrue. A number of senior Phalangist officers including William Hawi, Commander-in-Chief of the Kataeb Military Council, ran out of the nearby Kataeb base and tried to stop the murders but such was the rage that they were fired on by the rampaging fighters.
When news of this action reached west Beirut, Muslim militias along with their Palestinian allies set up road blocks and began killing Christians. In the hours that followed a total of around 200 civilians from each side had been murdered.
Anarchy in West Beirut
The number of dead and maimed mounted in Beirut. Snipers on roofs or at high windows picked off victims in the streets, in their homes, in shops, and in Offices. A common site was an open truck bearing a Soviet heavy machine-gun known as a ‘Douchka’, the gunman holding its grips with both hands to keep his balance as the vehicle hurtled through the streets and careened round corners. (It reminded onlookers of bronco- riding, or water-skiing, and the gunmen came to be known as ‘water- skiers’.) Everywhere in the city ‘armed elements’ sauntered in public places wearing masks, balaclavas, or squares of cloth covering all their features, or carnival papier-mâché faces, comic or grotesque, under cowboy stetsons, helmets, or any kind of headgear. Feather boas were seen draped round necks and shoulders under masked faces, and bits and pieces of all kinds of uniforms were worn:jungle camouflage fatigues, jeans and T-shirts. Guns were carried as an indispensable necessity, even in restaur-ants and on the beaches, by women as well as men. The masking was done often out of a genuine need for fighters to conceal their identity and so avert possible vengeance. But a certain illicit excitement in the freedom to kill with impunity filled the streets, and the ‘adventure’ attracted adventurers from far beyond the shores of Lebanon.
Many a 'franc tireur' toted his gun in the ranks of the fedayeen and the Marxists. Also bourgeois idealists, youths from Europe, most of them die-hards of the New Left’s militant ‘peace-movements’ of the late 1960s and now playing at revolution, and some of them neo-Nazis, were drawn here from the safe societies of the West to revel in the ‘real thing’. The parasitic PLO state in Lebanon was a subversives’ honeypot. Here they had licence to shoot and kill in an alien world, with no consequence to themselves. Would-be heroes of ‘the Revolution’, playboys and playgirls of terrorism from West Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, came to dress up, strut, blow up, and gun down. It was a masquerade with a cruelty all too real. The adventure required the suffering and dying of multitudes of helpless people. It was a carnival of death.
To add to the theatricality of the scene, convoys of cars with guns protruding from the windows, armoured vehicles and motorcycles would scream through the streets accompanying Arafat or Abu Iyad on their visits to politicians, foreign envoys, allied commanders of the revolution-ary forces. Then, in some office or apartment block or public building, dozens of men armed with ‘klashens’ would push down the corridors ahead of the great man: Arafat wearing his kafliyah pinned back from his face, dark glasses, a three-day growth of beard; or Abu Iyad, another short stout man dwarfed by huge bodyguards.
The PLO Camps
In an effort to consolidate its presence in Lebanon, the PLO put out a plan to make efficient use of the camps in Beirut and in the suburbs in crisis situations. Among the camps located in Christian areas, Tal al Zaatar was the largest and the most important both as a political and military base. This camp also contained there guerrilla training bases. The functions of the camp included the following: (i) to recruit workers from nearby factories in Dikwaneh and Mkallis for the Lebanese branch of Fateh. The person in charge of this operation was Ali al-Asmar. He was also the workers’ representative in the ‘Cortina’ ice cream factory; (ii) to purchase apartments in Dikwaneh and use them as surveilance posts; (iii) to link Tal al Zatar logistically to the nearby smaller but still substantial camp of Jisr-Basha and establish military control over the crossing of Mkalis, and (iv) To link Tal-Zaatar to the nearby area of Nabaa which had a large Shia population, where Palestinian and leftist groups were active. This plan to link the camps in times of crises would in effect completely envelope East Beirut's eastern flank and cut it off from the rest of Lebanon.
The Dhayeh camp, located near the largely Christian city of Jounieh was inhabited by Palestinian Christians and had a minor military function. It was used as a surveillance and intelligence post within the Christian region. The camp had a training base. Intelligence operations were condticted in association with the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, which had some supporters in the Metn region. Another important base was the area of Maslakh and Karantina located at the northern entry of East Beirut and inihabited by Palestinians, Kurds, Syrians and Shia. Fateh and other Palestinian organisations had a strong presences this area. Karantina also had one training base.
The Borj al-Barajneh camp, located in the southern suburb of Beirut, was the main military base in west Beirut. This camp had three training bases. As early as 1970, small munitions factories were established there. The Borj al-Barajneh camp, by virtue of its strategic location, controlled access to the main road linking Beirut to the airport as did the nearby camps of Sahra and Shatila, which later served as the Fateh headquarters in Beirut.
Battle of Karantina
With the outbreak of hostilities the PLO tried to activate their plan to link the camps of East Beirut and encircle the Christians. Whilest the majority of right wing fighters were tied down in downtown Beirut the Palestinians moved to isolate East Beirut as fighetrs from the camps tired to take control of access points into the city. In response to this the Lebanese front surrounded the camps of Tal al Zaatar, Jisr al Basha and Karantina on 4th January. To counter this move the PLO and their allies surrounded and launched an attack against the Christian town of Damour some 20km south of Beirut on January 9th. These tit for tat moves reulted in the Palestinian camp of Dbayeh being attacked by the Lebanese Front. On January 14 1976 the Dbayeh falls to the Guardinas of the Cedars and the Ahrar after a five day siege. The Karantina camp (and the nearby Maslakh), a slum district named after the old immigration quarantine area, was occupied and controlled by a large PLO detachment. This was therefore site of the another major episode in the war as the Lebanese Front tried to break out of East Beirut and link with the rest of Lebanon. The first attempt to expell the PLO from this area was in July 1975 but the Kataeb assualt on the camp was repelled by a joint PFLP and leftist force.
On January 18, 1976, a combined Lebanese Front force composed of Guardians of the Cedars, Ahrar and Kataeb took Karantina after a fierce battle in which the Palestinians held out for three days and fought to the last man in the Sleep Comfort furniture factory. Many Palestinian civilians were killed in the chaos of the assault and some in cold blood by the attackers who were enraged by the events the occurred four months earlier in the north of the country. Randal reports that accordibg to Lebansese survivors the Palestinians would not allow the civilians to leave the camp. After the battle the camp residents were evicted on buses and taked to west Beirut.
Having diverted forces to Beirut and other zones of combat, the Lebanese left wing National Movement was not equipped to pursue its siege of Damour against Maronite resistance. Palestinian forces were of limited assistance, since most of them were still deployed in the South, close to the Israeli border. Kamal Junbalat became increasingly anxious, and in a meeting at the home of the Sunni Mufti, Hasan Khalid, in Aramun, he joined other LNM and traditional Muslim leaders in initiating an appeal for Syrian assistance.
Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad later cited the appeal of the Aramun summit as evidence that Syria's intervention in Lebanon was purely invitational. In an unusual and highly revealing speech delivered on 20 July 1976, (Hafiz al-Assad, Text of speech delivered on 20 July 1976 (in Arabic), Al-Baath, Periodic Publication, no. 10, 4 August 1976, pp. 2-3.)President Assad explained the Syrian rationale in responding to the LNM's appeal. Assad relates that in mid-January, Lebanese Muslim and leftist leaders sent urgent "signals of distress" to Syria, due to the military collapse of LNM Resistance forces. The members of the Aramun summit urged Syrian Foreign Minister Khaddam to request President Assad to contact President Faranjiyih and try to stop the fighting.
Assad portrays himself as reluctant to comply with the request, not because of unwillingness to make the effort, but because he considered the demand unreasonable. He explains that the LNM and the Resistance had more weapons at their disposal than the entire Lebanese Army, let alone the Kataib and National Liberals. He therefore told Khaddam that "they must hold out" and that he would not contact Faranjiyih. However, Assad relented after Khaddam repeatedly called him to describe the desperation of the appealers, who feared that with the fall of Karantina and Maslakh, the Kataib's next move would be to occupy West Beirut. Assad called Faranjiyih on 18 January and arranged a cease-fire for that night, but the agreement did not hold and fighting escalated instead. At this point, Assad met with "some of our comrades in the leadership" to determine what might be done "to rescue the situation." Having already supplied arms and attempted mediation, the Syrians decided that "nothing remained but direct intervention."
The outcome of deliberations by the Syrians was a decision for a higher level of commitment in Lebanon. Assad explains the decision to intervene "under the banner of the Palestine Liberation Army," but later mentions that Syria moved in the PLA "and other forces" whose identity is not specified. He asserts that when the PLA began its entry into Lebanon, no one was aware that this was occurring. The autonomy of the Syrian decision is underscored by his remark that:
"We did not consult with them [i.e., the Palestinian Resistance] and we did not consult with the nationalist parties, and naturally not one of them was prepared to discuss with us any measures [that they took]. The important thing is that they requested us to carry out what [i.e., whatever] would rescue them." (Assad, Speech of 20 July 1976, p. 4.)
The approximately 3,500 men that entered Lebanon from Syria on 19th January were primarily affiliated with the Yarmuk Brigade, one of the PLA units stationed in Syria. They were responding to a Syrian command to move forward, although officially all PLA units were subject to the direct command of Yasir Arafat. Whereas the issue of PLA loyalties would later arouse acrimonious Syrian-Palestinian dispute, in this instance the PLA intervention clearly furthered the goals of the PLO in Lebanon and of the Lebanese National Movement. Most of the PLA forces from Syria were initially concentrated in the Biqa Valley, but the presence of these reinforcements enabled Arafat to draw on his forces in Southern Lebanon and move them north for the siege against Damour.
The indirect Syrian intervention quickly shifted the Lebanese military balance to favor the anti-establishment leftist PLO coalition.
One early opponent of Syria's diplomatic and military role was Camille Shamoun of the National Liberal Party. In his capacity as Minister of the Interior, he announced, upon hearing of the PLA intervention, that "forces of the Syrian Army have entered Lebanese soil . . . [and] this intervention threatens this part of the Middle East with a new war." When asked why he equated the PLA forces with the Syrian Army, Shamoun replied:
"It is very hard to differentiate between the Syrian Army and those military formations which are commanded by a number of Syrian officers and in whose ranks an additional number of Syrian officers fight unofficially. Let us not forget that all of the equipment and military supplies are given by Syria. . . . It is perhaps less official than aggression by the Syrian Army, but the result is exactly the same." (Al-Nahar, 20 January 1976)
Destruction of Damour
Two days later, January 20, 1976, Palestinians and their leftist allies launched their final assualt on the Christian town of Damour which lay across the Sidon - Beirut highway about 20 km south of Beirrut. The relentless pounding the town received resulted in the deaths of many. In the siege that had been established on 9 January the Palestinians cut off food and water supplies and refused to allow the Red Cross to take out the wounded. Infants and children as well as the elderly died of dehydration.
On January 16, 1976, Minister of Defence Chamoun called in the mostly Christian manned Lebanese Air Force to bomb leftist positions near Damour in an attempt to halt the Palestinian attack. The use of the air force caused a government crisis as the Prime Minister Rachid Karame went out of his way to stop its intervention.
A plan was devised to evacuate Damour's civilians and fortunately the majority of the population of Damour was evacuated by sea but about 500 civilians defended by some 20 mostly Ahrar troops did not make it out in time. Damour was captured, the defenders were executed, the civilians were lined up against the walls of their houses and shot, their houses were then dynamited. Many of the young women had been raped and babies had been shot at close range at the back of the head. 149 bodies lay in the streets for days afterwards and 200 other civilians were never seen again. In all about 582 civilians had been murdered. The horror did not end there, the old Christian cemetery was next, coffins were dug up the dead robbed, vaults opened, and bodies and skeletons thrown across the grave yard. Damour was then transformed into a stronghold of Fatah and the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine). The massacre and destruction of Damour is best described by Becker in the book "The PLO".
The massacre induced Muslims residing in Christian-dominated areas to flee to Muslim held areas, and vice versa. Whereas most Lebanese towns and neighbourhoods previously had been integrated, for the first time large-scale population transfers began to divide the country into segregated zones, the first step toward de facto partition.
The Break-up of the Lebanese Army
Syria’s increasing influence in Lebanese politics had now reached the Sunni leadership. To counter this, Arafat sought to promote Sunni and Leftist supporters of his own. One concrete manifestation of his policy was the announcement of his alliamnce in early 1976 of the Beirut-based Sunni militia, al-Murabitun, led by Ibrahim Qoleilat. A former Nasserite activist, Qoleilat was implicated in the assassination of the journalist Kamel Mrouweh in 1966 and was very much a local Beirut thug (qabaday). Trained and armed by Fateh, al-Murabitun, which included Palestinian and Lebanese fighters, received Libyan money.
For Arafat, the al-Murabitun alliance met three objectives: (i) It gave Palestinian military operations in Beirut an internal Lebanese Muslim cover; (ii) It undermined the influence of the Sunni political leadership on the ‘street’, particularly in Beirut; (iii) It underlined Sunni opposition to Syrian policy in Lebanon. Being largely dependent on Fateh, al-Murabitun was a useful instrument of military operations used by Fateh for escalation of warfare in Beirut 1976.
Rather than seeking a direct military confrontation with the Syrian regime, Fateh opted for another move aimed at undermining Syrian influence in Lebanon. On 15th January 1976, the Palestinians entered Kab Elias, a mixed Christian-Muslim village located in Békaa. Ten days later, 16 Christian civilians were killed and 23 others wounded in an unprovoked attack causing a mass exodus of the Christians from the Bekaa towards Zahlé, Beirut and Jounieh. It was at this juncture that the Army Lebanese began to disintegrate completely. Palestinians, mainly of the PLA had for days poured across the border from Syria and attacked in force the Christian villages in the Bekaa, when the Lebanese Army was sent in to stop the fighting, Lieutenant Ahmad Khatib mutinied and with his men he joined the PLA and then surrounded and bombarded Zahlé. The main orchestrator of the rebellion was Fateh leader Abu Jihad. Libya, Iraq and Fateh provided financial support for the Khatib movement.
The Movement of Ahmad al-Khatib,’ later known as the Arab Army of Lebanon (AAL) or the Lebanese Arab Army (LAA), was announced on 21 January 1976. The rebellion began in the Lebanese army barracks at Hasbayya, and quickly spread to other barracks in various parts of the country, especially in the south and the Beqa. For Syria, the rebellion was directed against its ‘stabilising role in Lebanon’.
Two days later the army underwent yet another split. This time it was led by Colonel Antoine Barakat, who declared loyalty to Frangieh. A Maronite from Frangieh’s hometown Zgharta, Barakat controlled a major army barracks near the defence ministry. Another officer, Major Fouad Malik, supported the Barakat-led faction, as did Major Sad Haddad, who took over in Marja’youn in the south.
The Lebanese Army was ripped into sectarian pieces. Army officers and troops entered into combat alongside the warring factions, while others remained under the nominal command of Army Chief Hanna Said. The latter commanded little authority even before the break-up of the army. Still others went home and did not take part in the fighting. Officers of the LAA commanded units in various parts of the country, particularly in the south and the north (Tripoli and ‘Akkar), where two Sunni officers, Ahmad Butari and Ahmad Mamari, were in command. The LAA was involved in brutal acts of kidnapping and sectarian killing in areas under its control in the north, south and the Beqaa.
The intervention of the Khatib's Lebanese Arab Army on the side of the PLO was a disaster for the Lebanese Front. Ahmad al-Khatib was a cousin of a socialist deputy named Zahir al-Khatib, who was a friend of Kamal Jumblatt. (‘A patriotic young officer with a good sense of politics,’ Jumblatt said of Ahmad Khatib.) As a close ally of the PLO, he moved his units southwards, in pursuit of the Christians who had fled that way to join their co-religionists when the war was raging in Beirut and the north; he intended to hunt them to extinction. His men, most of them professional and well-equipped soldiers, emptied or besieged the Christian towns and villages. It cannot be told how many people they killed, only it is certain they amounted to thousands. And as thousands more fled the country, Lieutenant al-Khatib came near to satisfying his highly publicized ambition of wiping out the entire Christian population in that part of Lebanon.
In desperation, as more officers and troops joined the Khatib movement, on 11 March another army officer, the Beirut garrison Brigadier ‘Aziz al-Ahdab, staged a ‘television coup’ and demanded the resignation of President Frangiyeh and announced that the Lebanese Army was stepping in to take over the government and restore order. A Sunni from Tripoli, Ahdab was the military commander of the Beirut district. Ahdab’s troops numbered fewer than a hundred, and hardly controlled their own command headquarters in Beirut. Whether or not Ahdab had the tacit support of the army command to force the cabinet to resign and help reunite the army, he definitely went too far by demanding the resignation of Frangiyeh. Although initially seeking to halt the breakdown, Ahdab’s action had the opposite effect. His ill-conceived move hastened the disintegration of the army and confirmed Syria’s suspicion of Palestinian involvement in this show of force. Indeed, if Abu Jihad was the man behind Khatib, Abu Hassan Salameh, Arafat’s close associate, was behind Ahdab. According to Abu Iyad, Ahdab was supplied with a Fateh escort to the television building where he announced the ‘coup’. Ahdab's move came too late and with too little support, and he was derisively nicknamed "General Television" by militia leaders, who commanded far more men.
On the surface, the LAA rebellion seemed spontaneous and reflected Muslim discontent within the army. In reality, however, the rebellion was orchestrated by Fateh and had well-defined objectives. For Fateh leaders, the Lebanese Army had always constituted a military threat to the PLO, not Lebanese militia forces. In early 1976, the situation seemed ripe for a large scale military action within the army. On that objective Palestinian leaders, notably Arafat, Abu Iyad, Abu Jihad, Abu Hassan Salameh, were in agreement. Fateh leaders Abu Jihad and Abu Hassan Salameh were in control of the LAA, and were assisted by military commanders. As the war intensified members of the LAA began to realize that they had been played and used by the PLO and so the LAA shrank from approximately 3,000-4,000 troops in March 1976 to a few hundred by the end of the year by the end of the year and the LAA was completely marginalised, as was the role of Ahmad al-Khatib (Syrian authorities detained Khatib on 18 January 1977).
The Great Bank Robbery, The Hotel District, and the Green Line
At some point during March or April the Palestinians realized that they had gained effective control of Bank Street and so the stage was set for the biggest bank robbery in modern history. General looting of the banks was followed by disastrous attempts to dynamite the vaults causing serious injuries to the Palestinian thieves, so they decided to bring in professional safecrackers from Europe, possibly supplied by the mafia. Of the eleven banks robbed, the worst hit were those with safe-deposit vaults, the British Bank of the Middle East, Banca di Roma, and Bank Misr-Liban. The Guinness Book of Records claims the BBME alone lost a minimum of $20 million but probably $50 million, that is equivalent to $175 million today. Saiqa, the pro Syrian wing of the PLO were identified with the Banca di Roma thefts and marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine was deemed responsible for the theft of the BBME. At one point a fire fight broke out between the two factions as Saiqa tried to steal the DFLP loot.
The fighting that had been raging on in the hotel district was reaching its climax. For months the Phalange had been perched defiantly in the twenty seven storey Holiday Inn hotel repelling attack after attack by Palestinian and leftist forces, giving the 'Battle of the Holiday Inn' legendary status. On 21st March 1976, a major assault by a special Palestinian commando units using armoured vehicles lent by the Khatib's Arab Army and supported by the leftist Muslim militias finally dislodged the Phalange. The leftist militias who had been handed the hotel by the Palestinians for propaganda purposes got so carried away celebrating that the Phalange was able to sneak back in at dawn the next day. The Palestinians therefore had to do the job all over again on the 22nd of March, and over the next few days the Phalange were pushed back to their defensive line at Martyrs Square.
As the weeks went by it was becoming apparent that the Lebanese Front were losing the war as the Palestinian-Muslim-leftist alliance forced them to retreat farther into East Beirut. The Lebanese Front had grossly underestimated the strength of the Palestinian forces in Lebanon and the support the Palestinians would receive from some Arab countries. The Christian militias of the Lebanese Front now began combining their military strength becoming known as the Lebanese Forces, the various component militias however maintained their own identity. The Christians felt it imperative to retain control of Beirut's port district and constructed an elaborate barricade defence at Allenby Street. As the Christians tried to stave off the Muslim-Leftist-Palestinian assault on the port district, the Lebanese Army finally entered the fray. Christian officers and enlisted men from the Al Fayadiyyah barracks outside Beirut came to the aid of their beleaguered coreligionists, bringing armoured cars and heavy artillery. The left wing Muslim-Palestinian advance was stopped, and the front at Allenby Street evolved into a no man's land, dividing Christian East Beirut from Muslim West Beirut. Vegetation that eventually grew in this abandoned area inspired the name Green Line, and cut the city in two until the end of the war in 1990.
But in East Beirut, right in the Maronite heartland, was the Palestinian ‘camp’ of Tall al-Za’tar. For many months before the outbreak of hostilities, Maronite businessmen driving from their offices in the city to their homes in the mountains had been stopped on the road through the camp by armed Palestinian boys and forced to show their identity papers. And now, from their strongholds in Tall al-Za’tar, the PLO forces were shelling the factories and offices of the eastern Christian suburbs of the city. The Kataeb and their allies marked Tall al-Za’tar for destruction.
The patriarchs of Lebanon's Christian community, particularly Pierre Gemayel and Camille Chamoun, were tempted by Israeli offers of assistance, but they nevertheless resisted entrusting the security of the Maronites to Israel and abjured close contact with Israel. But in 1976, threatened by the escalating War, a new generation of Lebanese Christian leaders turned to Israel for military support against the ascendant PLO and the Muslim left. After a series of clandestine meetings between Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence agency, and militia leaders Bashir Gemayel and Dany Chamoun, Israel supplied US$50 million to arm and equip the Christian fighters.
The Constitutional Document
For some weeks efforts for a negotiated settlement had been underway. The idea for a negotiated political settlement to end conflict through Syrian mediation had been on the mind of the Syrian leadership since November 1975. Damascus was using a ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach with the Maronite leadership. Syrian support for Palestinian, Leftist and Muslim forces was intended to keep the Maronite leadership under pressure to reach a settlement that favoured Syrian interests. To pursue that course of action, Damascus called upon an associate of Frangiyeh, Lucien Dahdah, then the Chairman of the Board of the Intra Company. Dahdah, who had family ties with Frangiyeh and old acquaintances in Syria, was contacted in Paris, where he was staying. With Frangiyeh’s approval, Dahdah met with Syrian officials. Talks went on for about four weeks and resulted in a draft, which was the basis for the Constitutional Document. Dahdah held meetings with Syrian officials, including seven with Assad. When negotiations started relations between Assad and Frangieh had been strained for several months, following Syrian army intervention in the war. Frangiyeh had presented evidence to Damascus confirming Syrian troops’ involvement in the war, particularly in the north.
The Constitutional Document was a convenient balancing act. It stipulated a more balanced confessional representation in government office and provided a formula to contain the internal dimension of conflict. It addressed grievances though without undermining the confessional foundations of a political system. One such grievance was Lebanon’s Arabism. The document proclaimed Lebanon’s Arabism but stated that Lebanon is a sovereign, free and independent country.
Of the seventeen points stated in the Constitutional Document, five dealt with Muslim grievances. By and large, they were aimed at curtailing presidential power. They are as follows: (i) Seats in parliament would be distributed on a fifty-fifty etween Muslims and Christians, and proportionately within each sect; (ii) the prime minister would be elected by a 51 per cent majority of the Chamber of then the prime minister should hold parliamentary consultations and the list of ministers in agreement with the president; (iii) All decrees and draft laws should be signed by the president and the prime minister. This did not apply to the decrees appointing the prime minister, accepting his resignation, or dissmissing his government. The prime minister should enjoy all the powers custumarily exercised by him; (iv) The distribution of posts on a confessional basis be abolished, although the principle of confessional equality should be maintained at the level of senior posts; (v) The naturalisation laws should be amended.
By contrast, only one provision addressed Christian demands. It affirmed the distribution of the three presidential posts, which allocated the presidency of the republic to a Maronite, the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies to a Shiite and the premiership to a Sunni.
Kamal Jumblatt and the PLO were heavily opposed to this document as an end to the war did not suit them. Jumblatt saw in this document a re-enactment of the 'no victor, no vanquished' formula of 1958, something which he was not willing to accept. Compromise was not appealing to Jumblatt and the PLO at a time when the military balance was in their favour. Therefore they looked for ways to intensify the fighting.
The Mountain Offensive
In March 1976, the leftist forces and the Palestinians launched an offensive across Mount Sannine to invade the Christian heartland. The PLO head strategist, Salah Khalaf, announced as Palestinian forces climbed the eastern flank of Mount Sannine to attack Christians in their historic mountain villages, that the road to Palestine lay through 'Uyun Al Siman, Aintoura, and even Jounieh itself'. These Christian areas are to the north of Beirut not towards Israel in the south, the Palestinians had declared war on the very nation that had given them refuge, Lebanon and the Lebanese Christians in particular.
The offensive, coinciding with the assault on the hotel distirct, began on 17 March and led to the capture of several villages in the Upper Metn region. These military operations, particularly the opening of a new front in the Mountain, were alarming developments not only for the Christian forces but also for Syria who started to fear that a Christian defeat and so a Palestinian controlled Lebanon would lead to an Israeli invasion.
According to George Hawi, military escalation in the Mountain was initially suggested by Palestinian leaders. In a meeting held in early March in the village of Souq al-Gharb and attended by Arafat, Abu Jihad, Abu Iyad, in addition to Jumblatt, Hawi and Mohsin Ibrahim, Palestinian leaders advocated the opening of a new front in the Mountain. For them, the Mountain front had a dual purpose: to put military pressure on Christian forces especially in the central part of Mount Lebanon, to prevent an assault on the Tal-Zaatar camp, and to mobilise Arab and international support for PLO-Leftist forces.
As some of Ahmad Khatib's forces surrounded and besieged the town of Zahle in the Beqaa, other LAA troops along with the National Movement and the PLO advanced on the Maronites in Beirut, and came right to the Metn, the constituency of Pierre Gemayel’s elder son Amin, the Maronite heartland.
By March 25 the artillery of of the LAA led by Major Hussien Awwad, was scoring direct hits against Frangieh's residential quarters in the Presidential Palace and so the President was forced to leave the palace and seek residency for the rest of his term in Kisirwen.
As fighting broadened, attempts were made, once again, to reach a political settlement. Views on the course of the war and its objectives between Arafat and Jumblatt began to diverge. While Jumblatt pressed for a 'military solution' Arafat was more cautious. Jumblatt went to Damascus hoping to get weapons from Syria, On his way to Damascus, Jumblatt made a statement to journalists that he hoped to receive them soon in Bikfaya and Jounieh. Ten days earlier Leftist forces had launched their first major offensive in the Mountain. At the meeting, Assad inquired about the statement and told Jumblatt that it would be better to deny it since the purpose of the meeting was to end the fighting. To this Jumblatt replied that fighting could be ended in a few days only if Syria would provide him with the weapons he needed to finish off the Christians.
Assad's attempt to persuade Jumblatt to accept a political settlement failed. Jumblatt was determined to score a military victory and alter the political system. On no issue of substance were the two men in agreement. The divide between them could not be bridged. Assad, the head of state, had calculations to make and a strategy to follow. Jumblatt, seeking to rule a state, had a completely different agenda and, by extension, was not careful in weighing the outcome of his deed. Assad’s assessment of that stormy meeting was revealed in a highly publicised speech delivered on 20 July 1976. For Assad, Jumblatt’s socialist and progressive ‘masks’ had fallen; Jumblatt was not interested in political reforms but was rather settling a 140-year old sectarian vendetta. It had become obvious that Jumblatt was going to settle for nothing less than the total and unconditional defeat of the Christians.
In Assad's account relayed in his speech of 20 July 1976, Jumblatt emerges as an ungrateful and unreasonable recipient of Syrian favors. At the outset of the meeting, Assad reminded Jumblattthat despite generous Syrian political and military support, his forces were unable to hold out in January and Syria was obliged to intervene on their behalf. Intervention was followed by a political initiative that secured for the Palestinian Resistance all of the guarantees it wanted, and realized 90 to 95 percent of the reforms demanded by the LNM in the Constitutional Document. Although Jumblatt disputed this evaluation of the Syrian reform plan, Assad says that the Lebanese leader raised no fundamental objections. He complained, for example, that many clauses of the agreement were ambiguous, to which Assad responded that the broad guidelines would be elaborated upon in later regulations and laws, and "at that point, you will explain what you want." Assad then accused Jumblatt of supporting Ahdab's coup along with its objective of the President's resignation. Even after Syria accommodated this demand and reached an agreement on the subject, "you yourselves exploded the situation." In the past, Assad remarked, "we believed that we were traveling with you along a single line and toward a single goal," but now he demanded that Jumblatt provide an explanation.
Jumblatt claimed that his principal objective was to realize a secular state in Lebanon. Assad objected, saying that in meetings with the Lebanese Mufti, the Shia Imam Musa al-Sadr, and other Muslim leaders, they vehemently opposed secularization as antithetical to Islam. The only response Jumblatt offered to the Muslim religious leaders' view was, "Don't worry about them, they do not represent anything!" To this Assad remarked that the issue was not one of representation but rather of religious principles and must therefore not be taken lightly. At this point, Jumblatt showed his true colors, blurting out:
"Let us teach them a lesson! The matter must be resolved militarily. They have governed us for 140 years; we want to get rid of them now!"
The issue, Assad concludes, was merely one of revenge and reprisal, based on grudges harbored against the Maronites for over a century. Jumblatt was voicing the grievances of a traditional Druze chief, camouflaged as progressive and revolutionary ideals. As the meeting came to an end, Assad was convinced that Jumblatt was determined to fight and warned him: "Do not rely on our support."
As Jumblatt returned to Lebanon he launched an offensive by joint PLO-Leftist forces against the Christian village of Kahaleh overlooking Beirut and the presidential palace in Baabda with the aim of final victory.
The Battle of Kahaleh
The struggle for the town of Kahaleh, a major military objective for Jumblatt's forces, held the key to either a truce or renewed fighting. Whoever controlled that town would control the eastern entrance to the capital. The right-wing forces were determined to hold the town at all cost; hence, the battle for Kahaleh was approaching extensive proportions. Incoming fire made the town desolate, forcing its inhabitants to conceal themselves as best they could. The glare of rocket fire and the thud of artillery crashing into the town echoed the doom of deadly combat in the surrounding hills. The leftists advanced to the parameters of the village but were repelled, time and again, in heavy hand-to-hand combat. The villagers had set up barricades and huge earth moods across the access roads to the village. The people of Kahaleh know that should their village fall East Beirut would be assualted and would also likely fall. They would never let this happen.
However, the rightist force was dwindling as leftist reinforcements reached the area. The wounded and dying rightists refused evacuation from the town, doggedly holding their position. The thunder of field artillery, heavy mortars, field cannons, and even antiaircraft guns was heard night after night and the night sky was ablaze about the battered Christian village, but not an inch of ground was gained by the leftists. Kahaleh was, nevertheless, completely surrounded by the left and the Lebanese Front was unable to be reinforced it from east Beirut. As the state of the defenders became gradually worse and the village was on verge of collapse all able bodied men and many women rushed to the barricades to assist their exhausted defenders. Finally after a week of heavy fighting, crack PLO commandos were brought in to do the job that Jumblatt's Druze warriors and their leftist allies had not accomplished. The PLO attack was brutal and in places breached the defences of the village but after hours of close quarter fighting the PLO commandos were pushed back and then retreated. Miraculously, Kahaleh had held on.
The leftist coalition, now more powerful than ever with the inclusion of Arafat's forces was not able to over run the town. Also of significance, the leftists ran into exasperating resistance in the downtown area of the city, while some other places outside the capital, the Moslem-leftist drive was in serious trouble and was grinding to a halt on some fronts. Commanders in the leftist alliance started asking for a ceasefire. The PLO also favored a truce, and hence, Jumblatt reluctantly agreed to it.
Syrian Army Enters Lebanon
The government of Syria which had been backing the leftists and the Palestinians, although in theory a socialist regime, feared that a leftist victory and the installation of a radical government in Lebanon would undermine Syrian security and provide Israel an excuse to intervene in the area. Repeated diplomatic efforts between the Syrians and the leftist forces failed to quell the war, Syria's threat to ban all further arms shipments to the leftist militias and even the direct intervention of the pro Syrian Saiqa against the LAA in the Matn region did not stop the leftists advance. Jumblatt's rejection of the Constitutional Document was a slap in the face for Assad and had very negative effects on Syria's prestige in the region.
An abrupt shift in Syria's public posture occurred after the Assad Jumblatt showdown. On 1 April 1976, the Information Office of the Syrian Bath Party released a searing personal attack on Jumblatt. Referring to him as the "spurious king of the left," the Party contends that Jumblatt's ideological pretensions were merely a mask for his ambition to become President of Lebanon. Sparked by an "historical complex" related to the subordinate role of the Druze in the Lebanese political system, Jumblatt would allegedly be willing to see 20,000 Lebanese killed and partition take place, so as to emerge as leader of the truncated state. Jumblatt is thereby identified as a partner in an international conspiracy, backed by the United States and Israel, aimed at Lebanon's partition. Moreover, the statement declares, "the battle is aimed at Syria's regime" and at its initiative in Lebanon. Nevertheless, after Jumblatt's meeting with President Assad, "the last veil has fallen from the face of the imposter," and his downfall is declared to be imminent.
In the first week of April 1976, Kamal Jumblatt charged that 17,000 Syrian soldiers were massed along the Lebanese border, sarcastically observing that "we hope they would enter to help the National Movement." He said that Asad had threatened to cut off arms and ammunition to the LNM and the Palestinian Resistance, and was already beginning to impose a blockade on several key ports.
On the ground, forces of Saiqa as well as some Syrian regulars crossed the border into Lebanon on 9 April 1976. Syrian armor, passing through the border town of Masnaa, advanced along the strategically vital Beirut-Damascus highway, providing support to beleaguered Christian forces at Zahleh in the Biq'a Valley and setting up a garrison farther to the west at Shtura. A naval blockade of the northern port of Tripoli and the southern ports of Sidon and Tyre, crucial sources of supply to the LNM, was begun in earnest. After these rapid maneuvers, the Syrian forces froze their advance and a cease-fire was declared on the same day.
In his first speech to the nation on his Lebanese policy, delivered on 12 April 1976, Assad asserts that "we are against any party which insists on continuing the fighting." He assails those who are "traders in politics and not politicians, traders in revolution and not revolutionaries, traders in progressivism and not progressives." Syria is determined to stand up against those responsible for the bloodletting "out of nationalist and Arab principle and out of the principle that the Palestinian cause is the pivot of the Arab struggle." Although doing so imposes additional burdens on Syria, Assad prepares his people to assume an increased level of commitment:
"We in this country, Muslims and Christians, are prepared to move into Lebanon and to protect every oppressed person without regard for his religious affiliation. . . . [W]e in this region [i.e., Syria] possess complete freedom of movement, and we are able to take the positions which we believe in without anyone being able to prevent us from taking those positions." (Al-Nahar, 13 April 1976)
Responding to these developments, Kamal Jumblatt charged that 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers had entered Lebanon, including the Syrian 91st Armored Brigade. He condemned "the Syrian Army which entered under the veil of al-Saiqa," demanding its immediate withdrawal. The LNM leader distinguished between the illegitimacy of the Saiqa-Syrian Army move, which had not been requested by Lebanese authorities, and entry of the PLA in January. Other Lebanese spokesmen, however, gave the Syrians a much more favorable reception. After Hafiz al-Assad's 12 April speech, Lebanese President Faranjiyih praised the "courageous stand" of Syria, motivated by "noble brotherly sentiment" and "Arab solicitude for the unity, independence, and flourishing of Lebanon." Camille Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel did not object to the Syrian move and it was rumoured that the Lebanese Front militias were down to their last 72 hours of ammunition and were on the verge of total defeat. Indeed Kataib leader Pierre Gemayel praised Assad's "historic speech," which served to "tear away the blinders from every eye" in exposing Jumblatt's true colors.
The entry of 12,000 Syrian Army troops into Lebanon on 1st June 1976 dramatically contrasted with the tentativeness of Syria's previous commitment in Lebanon. After the reassessment of early 1976, involving a shift in the direction of its alignments and an incremental rise in its commitment, the Syrian elite plunged decisively into direct military engagement.
Once President Assad and his advisers decided on this course, they did not await invitations by parties to the Lebanese strife. This phase of Syrian intervention and escalation was penetrational in its designs and implementation. Nevertheless, miscalculations about the costs involved in achieving more ambitious objectives obliged the Syrian elite to make tactical readjustments. The largescale Syrian military offensive suffered initial reversals, only to be subsequently revived at a still higher level of military commitment.
The immediate precipitant for Syrian military intervention was an attack on two Maronite villages of of Koubayat and Andakil in northern Lebanon by maverick units of the Lebanese Arab Army late in May 1976. Residents of the villages sent a telegram to President Asad, appealing for Syrian assistance. In a subsequent justification of Syria's response, Prime Minister Karami suggested that Syria's intervention was "motivated by nationalist and humanist sentiments, in response to the request of a group of citizens who were in a state of despair and fear, prompting them to appeal for assistance to sister Syria."
The authenticity of the Lebanese appeal was immediately questioned. On 1 June, Kamal Junbalat charged that "the Syrians pressured one of the officers in the north to commit aggression against two towns." This attack was contrived to generate a pretext for Syrian response, and "no one asked them to intervene." Maronite leader Raymond Edde also discounted the claim by Syrian Foreign Minister Khaddam that Syria had intervened based on the request of Lebanese authorities and a large segment of Lebanese public opinion. Edde challenged Khaddam to name the Lebanese authorities who issued the appeal and "to announce who are those who represent public opinion." He also urged President Faranjiyih to announce publicly whether he had invited the Syrian forces, contending that "if neither he nor his government requested the entry of the Syrian Army, then [what is the reason for] his silence and the silence of his government about this flagrant transgression against the sovereignty of Lebanon?"
Raymond Edde accused the Syrians of trying to annex Lebanon. Dany Chamoun and especially Bashir Gemayel opposed the Syrian intervention on the grounds that it would prevent settlement from being reached between the warring factions. Bashir Gemayel was so concerned that he met with Jumblatt to discuss the issue.
A full-fledged debate was soon under way in Lebanon about the propriety of the Syrian intervention, along with speculation over its possible course.
The Lebanese Front decided to adopt a "wait and see" attitude to the Syrian advance into Lebanon as they felt that they had no other choice. Taking on the Syrians in a military confrontation would have been a disaster for the Lebanese Front and so they decided to let the Syrians enter without resistance. Etienne Sakr rejected this decision and so the Guardians of the Cedars blocked the Ba'abdat crossing and delayed the entry of the Syrian forces for four days. To avoid armed conflict with the Lebanese Front who exerted enormous pressure on him to order his fighters to retreat.
At a summit conference on 5 June, the Lebanese Front endorsed the Syrian intervention, citing statements by Foreign Minister Khaddam reiterating Syrian commitment to the independence and territorial integrity of Lebanon. Kataib Party leader Pierre Gemayel called for a "security accord with a Syrian guarantee in preparation for a political solution." The Lebanese Front said the role of the Syrian forces would be confined to preserving security in troubled areas and regulating the entry of weapons into the country. Once security was achieved, a roundtable discussion between domestic Lebanese parties could lead to a political settlement. Lebanon would reach an agreement with Syria limiting the duration of the Syrian military presence, subject to renewal at the request of the Lebanese authorities and parties to the Lebanese conflict. (Al-Nahar, 6 June 1976)
For his part, President Faranjiyih insisted that he did not know beforehand of Syria's plan to intervene, and President-elect Sarkis also denied foreknowledge. Faranjiyih justified the intervention as a necessary means for implementing the Constitutional Document, with first priority to the Cairo Agreement. The Lebanese daily Al Nahar took issue with Faranjiyih's justification, indicating that the Syrian-sponsored Constitutional Document was never passed by the Lebanese Parliament, and that the President was therefore not authorized to implement it. Moreover, "if it is imperative that the Cairo Agreement be implemented, the [Constitutional] Document does not call for its implementation through a Syrian military invasion, but rather through dialogue and mutual understanding." (Al-Nahar, 2 June 1976, 10 June 1976)
Most leftist forces capitulated without firing a shot, overwhelmed by the Syrian show of force. In Sidon, however, Palestinian and leftist forces fought off the Syrians for nearly six months before relinquishing their stronghold. Syrian humiliation at being unable to overcome unexpectedly heavy resistance by Palestinian and LNM forces in Sidon was deepened by defections from Syrian ranks. Most conspicuous were defections among PLA and Saiqa forces that had entered Lebanon earlier under Syrian auspices. This notably took place in Beirut, in reaction to a confrontation on 6 June between advancing Syrian forces and Palestinian-LNM militiamen in the Biqa Valley. After the Syrians were erroneously reported to have used their Air Force for attacks in the Biqa, violent clashes erupted in Beirut between Palestinian-LNM militiamen and Saiqa-PLA forces already stationed by the Syrians in the capital. As Palestinians fought Palestinians, many of those associated with Syria switched allegiance, contributing to the ease with which the Saiqa-PLA forces in Beirut were disarmed. Even more threatening to the Syrian elite was dissent among regular Syrian forces. Individual pilots and unit commanders refused to participate in the Lebanese operation, and after entering Lebanon some officers defected to join Palestinian and LAA ranks. The offenders were quickly punished, however, and incidents of dissent remained limited.
In the following months, the Syrian presence grew to 27,000 troops. By November the Syrians had occupied most Muslim held areas of Lebanon, including West Beirut and Tripoli.
The Battle of Tal al-Zaatar
As New Year 1976 was ushered in, the Lebanese capital witnessed a somber but relatively peaceful period. Pierre Gemayel continued to insist on a cease-fire and the restoration of public order before political reforms could be effectively enacted. But fighting began anew in the vicinity of Tal al Zaatar and Jisr al Basha camps in East Beirut. These camps, as were others, were located on land belonging to the Maronite Church which provided uch assistance to Palestinians refugess when they entered Lebanon. From the late 1960s these camps however had become a major problem for the Lebanese residents of the area as Palestinian fighters would subject Lebanese citizens to daily acts of humiliation as they passed by the camps. From 1970 until the start of the war yearly skirmishes had taked place in the regions surrounding the camps between Palestinians and Lebanese security forces. With the outbreak of war fighters from Jisr al Basha and Tal al Zaatar began attacking the surrounding region and artillery based in the camps had been shelling Christian villages since early 1975.
On the 3rd January; rocket and mortar fire forced, yet again, Christian residents out of nearby homes and Issam al-Arab, head of the Nassarite Corrective Movement, delivered a warning to the Phalangists and other right-wing parties to completely evacuate the area. Amine Gemayel charged that the leftists were trying to blockade the Christian Ashrafiyah district. Camille Chamoun, in his reply to Issam al-Arab, appealed to the leftist leaders at Tal al Zaatar to allow approximately twenty-five Christian families who had been evicted from their homes near the Jisr al-Basha camp to return to their homes. Finally, the Phalangists demanded that the leftists open all the roads heading toward Bayt Meri that they had blocked, or face the consequences.
In response to those demands, the leftists opened fire into the eastern suburbs of the city, pinning down the Lebanese army troops who had just moved in there. The Lebanese Front returned fire. As artillery shells continued to hit the Palestinian camps of Tal al Zaatar and Jisr al-Basha for the second day in a row, the Lebanese issued a stern warning to the PLO command at both camps, and also to the leftists entrenched in adjacent Nabaa area, to cease firing on East Beirut and on Christian villages or face eventual defeat and eviction. To dramatize their point, the rightists assembled some forces, including a few armored vehicles, near the camp sites. The PLO response was clear. PLO and leftist gun positions poured artillery fire across the Green Line, raining death and destruction on the overexposed rightist forces and also further hitting the Christian neighborhoods in East Beirut.
On 4th January 1976, a thin cordon was established around the camp by 300 fighters from the Tanzim and 100 fighters from the Maroun Khoury group in an effort to contain the Palestinians. The Maroun Khoury group was a Dikwaneh based militia. One road was left open to allow Palestinian evacuation towards Aley but the Palestinians refused to enter into dialogue with the Lebanese Front. The PLO, as they had done in Karatina, prevented many of the people of the camp from leaving so by taking them hostage. Ahrar forces surrounded and attacked Jisr al Basha and Kataeb and Guardian of the Cedars troops engaged the adjacent mainly Shiite area of Nabaa which contained large numbers of leftist and forces. The battle for the camps had started and was the final showdown between the Palestinians and the Lebanese Front in Beirut. It was one of the hardest battles fought during the war.
The next day the PLO special forces expanded their positions to gain control of the heights overlooking Tal al Zaatar, pinning down the rightist militiamen. All counterattacks mounted by the Lebanese were beaten back. Within the camp, heavy artillery fired on the Maronite northlands, as new fighting erupted in downtown Beirut. Chamoun, supporting Gemayel's position, said publicly that the battles were predominantly between the Lebanese-right and the PLO-left. The hotel district came under intense fire once more, as the PLO warned the Lebanese to lift the siege of Tal al Zaatar and the Jisr al-Basha camps. More than a thousand Palestinian troops were quickly transported from South Lebanon and redeployed in and around the Shiyah district, awaiting instructions to open a new front.
On January 7 a force of 1200 Palestinians that had been diverted from the south attacked the region of Horsh Tabet from West Beirut in an effort to get to Tal al Zaatar and break the seige. Pitched battles took place between Phalangist forces and Palestinian Fedayin in the streets. After three days of heavy close quarter combat the Palestinian assault was repelled.
Over the next four months the seige was tightened and the Lebanese Front tried to negotiate a surrender as they felt a large scale assualt on the camps would be too costly in terms of human lives.
Tal al-Zaatar contained about 2,500 Palestinian guerrillas intermixed with a civilian population of roughly 15,000. The camp was divided into five main sections controlled by different factions of the PLO, Fatah, the PFLP-GC (Ahmad Jibril), the PFLP (George Habash), The PDFLP (Hawatmeh), and Saiqa. This Saiqa unit which under normal conditions would be under Syrian control was taking orders from PLO command. These PLO camps near the Beirut River were heavily armed fortresses built around a former industrial park. Within the two sprawling camps, the PLO's furthest outpost in Christian-held territory, was an impressive array of military armaments, which included surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, artillery, antiaircraft guns, and PLO special forces. Because Tal al-Zaatar was honeycombed with bunkers and tunnels and a layered defense system the camp, which was a seventy-four-acre complex, would be able to hold out for months against repeated attacks.
On the 22 June 1976 after all surrender negotiations failed the Lebanese Front launched an offensive against the camp. Facing the PLO was a small combined force of Lebanese Front militiamen consisting of some 500 Guardian of the Cedars fighters, 500 Ahrar Tigers, 300 Tanzim, and some 100 fighters from the Maroun Khoury group (MKG). These fighters were joined a week later by some 100 Kataeb troops. The Lebanese Front were supported and advised by Lebanese army officers. The PLO claimed that Syrian and Israeli advisers were also present but this does not appear to be the case. Overall command was in the hands of a committee that included Danny Chamoun (Ahrar), Etienne Sakr (Guardians), Charles Akl (Guardians), George Adwan (Tanzim), Maroun Khoury (MKG), and Michel Aoun and Fuad Malek of the Lebanese Army.
The attack was a three pronged affair on the outer perimeter of the camp with the Guardians on the Dautzigian front, the Ahrar Tigers on the Gervais front and the Tanzim attacking Tallet el mir. The attackers encountered heavy resistance and although the Guardian of the Cedars objectives on the Dautzigian front were reached, the progress of the Ahrar and the Tanzim was slow and so resulted in the Guardians being pinned down by Palestinian positions that the Ahrar and the Tanzim should have taken on the Gervais and Tallet el mir fronts. Enforcements where rushed to the Ahrar and Tanzim and by nightfall all the objectives on the outer perimeter of the camp had been reached and secured. Further advances proved difficult due to the impressive ability of the defenders of the camp and cover fire from nearby Nabaa and Jisr al Basha both of which were still under assault.
Despite numerous calls for the Palestinians to surrender, Arafat felt that a large military defeat would result in a political victory and so he called upon those inside the camp to go on fighting regardless being hopelessly surrounded, in short Arafat wanted as many Palestinian casualties as possible. Arafat appealed to his fighters to turn Tal al-Zaatar into 'a Stalingrad'. At one point during a ceasefire Arafat told his men to agree to surrender and then he ordered his senior officers to open fire on the Lebanese forces so as to enrage the Lebanese.
As heavy fighting raged in the Nabaa district, June 29 1976 saw the camp at Jisr el Basha fall freeing up troops to be directed against Tal al-Zaatar. The victory at Jisr al-Basha established Lebanese Front policy for future campaigns. Arrangements were be made to evacuate all troops and civilians, using the International Red Cross as a neutral observer group to prevent outrages from occurring. The PLO and leftist forces at Tal al Zaatar, however, said that they would never surrender and, should the camp be overrun, they would kill hostages and resort to a policy of continued resistance behind the enemy lines. Nevertheless, the PLO threat went unheeded. After some many days of constant combat, the right wing leadership paid little attention to PLO or leftist remarks or threats. The Lebanese Front proved true to their words. Under Syrian protection, the Red Cross quickly moved into the Jisr al-Basha camp and removed the remaining civilian refugees and prisoners.
The following day, the drive for Tal al Zaatar resumed. Three tanks took up positions on the outskirts of the cluster of concrete blockhouses that controlled the main entrances into the camp. A fourth tank had been knocked out by either a land mine or an antitank gun. A member of the Guardians of the Cedars, called on all hostages in the camp to seek shelter pending their rescue after the battle had been won. A Lebanese assault then overran the camps's outer perimeter.
The Palestinians, however, on 2 July managed to knock a hole in the rightists' lines in an attempt to infiltrate the camp, bringing in more sophisticated weapons including multibarreled rocket launchers and ammunition. The rightists quickly plugged the hole in their lines and tightened their grip on the camp. Tal al Zaatar was completely encircled by the eleventh day of fighting, and therefore, the Lebanese forces made one last effort to end the conflict by negotiations. They asked the camp leaders to surrender peacefully, and in return, the combatants would be allowed to leave unharmed under the escort of the Arab League's forces. This effort was an attempt to show the Arab World that the rightists were not against the PLO, only against their involvement with the Lebanese-left and their uncontrolled, sprawling presence in Lebanon. Arafat's second-incommand, Salah Khalaf (better known as Abu Iyad), rejected the rightists' offer and ordered the camp to fight to the end. The PLO had decided not to show weakness or capitulate to the Lebanese-right. At about the same time, Farouk Kaddoumi, a member of the PLO's political office, threatened an all-out war against the right and called for Arab troops and Moslem volunteers to enter Lebanon in order to save the Palestinian revolution there from foreign conspiracies. As he made his appeal, Christian areas in the suburbs of Beirut and the eastern mountains witnessed day-and-night shelling that surpassed anything thrown at them during the previous months. Nevertheless, the siege of Tal al Zaatar continued uninterrupted.
As many of the Christian forces were tied down fighting Palestinians in East Beirut the PLO and their allies launched a massive offensive against the Kura and the Christian town of Chekka north of Beirut on the 5th July 1976 and started to slaughter civilians. Chekka was able to repell the attackers but was surrounded and heavily bomabrded.
With Chekka on the verge of collapse, church bells in the heavily Maronite Christian region began to ring, warning people of imminent defeat and to be ready to defend themselves. Hundreds of men descended from the mountains to the coastal plains to try and push the attackers back into Tripoli.
With great urgency, a substantial number Lebanese Front troops were rushed by night from the Tal al Zaatar front to reinforce towns and villages in northern Lebanon in hopes of preventing a large-scale massacre of Christians by the leftists and PLO. First on the scene were the Guardians of the Cedars who encountered heavy resistance and were rapidly enforced by Kataeb and Ahrar forces. In several hard-fought battles, the leftists were either stopped or pushed back to their old lines, and several towns were retaken by the Lebanese Front. However, at the industrial town of Chekka, Christian resistance was waning. It therefore required a large-scale support effort with jeeps, trucks, and buses carrying troops into the combat zone. It was, however, Lebanese Front artillery that broke the siege and saved the town on the 10th July. PLO forces however still held on to part of Chekka and to Amyun, south of Tripoli. The Lebanese Front, under the protection of their field artillery, moved on these two towns to engage the entrenched PLO forces there. Before nightfall, the towns were liberated.
Before the final onslaught on Tal al Zaatar could take place, North Lebanon had to be secured and relieved of any future PLO threat. A devasting surprise counter attack was launched on the PLO as the forces that had come to Chekka's rescue adavnced north against the PLO. With Marada attacking southwards from Zgharta, the surprise counteroffensive by the Christians pushed the leftists far from their former positions and reached the very gates of Tripoli. By the end of July, the rightwing forces had pushed the leftists back and bottled them up in the city. President Franjieh's Marada troops, who hailed from Zgharta and were commanded by his son Tony, kept the PLO pinned down in Tripoli to allow the other Lebanese Front fighters to return to the Tal al Zaatar battle. Syria restrained the Marada advance on Tripoli to avoid a major victory by the right. The Marada forces were largely restricted to the outskirts of Tripoli and to their own territory.
Meanwhile the battle raged at Tal al Zaatar and PLO forces from Tal al Zaatar managed to tunnel their way into the predominantly Moslem neighborhood of Nabaa to join the leftists entrenched there who were providing cover fire for the camp. Clashes were reported between these Palestinians and the ultra right-wing Armenian Tashnak Party, whose headquarters was in nearby Burj Hammoud.
On July 8th the leftists opened new fronts in the port and business districts, hoping to draw the rightists away from Tal al Zaatar, but the assaults were quickly repulsed by local defenders. With new supplies and battle-hardened troops from the northern campaign, the rightists amassed their forces to end the siege of the camp. repeated attacks were beaten back by machine-gun and rocket fire directed from a towering edifice. This was an old factory building from which outgoing fire was guided, located in the heart of the camp, near the PLO's last stronghold.
On July 13th William Hawi, commnander of the Kataeb military forces was shot and killed by a sniper whilest he was inspecting his forces on the edge of the camp. Bashir Gemayel assumed command of te Kataeb and the Lebanese Front fighters were joined by a further 100 Kataeb troops and 350 Ahrar troops who had been diverted from other fronts.
By the third week of July 1976, the oppressively muggy heat of that summer began to take its toll on the combatants. On 20 July 1976 a group of civilian hostages and wounded defenders appeared, hands held high as they surrendered. Quickly they were taken to Amine Gemayel's headquarters for questioning, and later that day, they were released into the custody of the Red Cross. The remaining troops and civilians were holding out in one corner of the underground complex and had vowed to fight to the end. The rightists, who were overconfident that the end of the campaign was near, stepped up their operations on two sides of the last building but were repeatedly driven back by sniper fire. The camp had survived the twenty-eighth day of battle.
While the battle for the camp raged on, heavy fighting continued in the capital and the outlying areas, particularly at the town of Ayn Tura, located between Zahle and Junieh. Rocket duels, mortar fire, and machine-gun bursts across the Beirut dividing line kept up the pressure on the militias as new plans were drawn up for the continuing siege of the devastated PLO camp in East Beirut. Excessive fighting continued around the camp, but no new positions were taken.
The rightist forces halted the shelling of long enough to allow a Red Cross delegate and a physician to take in medical supplies to treat the sick and wounded in the camp. The cease-fire continued for seven hours until all could be treated. It was arranged by the Phalangists, the PLO, and General Muhammad Hassan Ghoneim of the Arab League forces. However, the NLP, under Camille Chamoun, was not consulted, since he had opposed even a limited cease-fire until after Tal al Zaatar surrendered. His troops did observe the cease-fire, however, out of respect for the Arab League's authority.
The Red Cross requested permission to evacuate about a thousand troops and civilians from the underground hospital in the camp. Three Swiss delegates began negotiations with the rightist command to begin evacuation procedures. The leader of the group, Jean Hoefliger, the chief delegate of the International Red Cross in Lebanon, considered his initial mission a success and thanked the Phalangist leadership for its humanitarian concern for the civilian hostages there amid strong passions and taut emotions. His deputy delegate, Edmond Cortesi, echoed Hoefliger's sentiments.
The Lebanese met PLO representatives to discuss a cease-fire, since storming the camp would be too costly. The rightists had already lost close to four hundred men in the battle, which was an extraordinarily high number. It was believed that about four hundred defenders remained in the camp and that they were very well equipped to withstand assault.
Toward the last week of July, in what was more or less a face-saving gesture for both the PLO and the Lebanese Forces, a new cease-fire was negotiated between the two groups, under Arab League auspices. As the negotiations approached their final stage, news reached the Arab League envoy, Sabry al-Khouly, that the roof of the underground shelter at Tal al Zaatar had collapsed. Kamal Junblat requested immediate aid for the victims of the disaster, while the rightist forces there observed a temporary cessation of hostilities in order to save the entombed civilians and to assist those who had exited the ruins. The new cease-fire was extended to include the business district, airport, and the roads linking the Christian suburbs of al-Hazmiyah with the airport, but it clearly excluded Tal al Zaatar. The harbor area, which was still in rightist hands, would be opened to the Moslem sector of the city to allow it to receive badly needed supplies. At the camp, under intermittent fire, rightist rescue workers, digging tunnels and trenches, brought out scores of civilians who were trapped within their reach. They had been close to death by asphyxiation in their shelter and were immediately treated and given over to the Red Cross, which transferred them to the Red Crescent, its Moslem equivalent.
The Red Cross, meanwhile, had called for a three-day truce around the camp in order to evacuate the wounded. In what now seemed an unbelievable act of evil, the PLO headquarters, which was still in radio communication with the defenders at Tal al Zaatar, urged its combatants to fight on against the Lebanese Forces.
August 1, 1976, saw a Red Cross convoy pick its way through winding, makeshift roads to the approaches of the main buildings of the Tal al Zaatar camp. The road had been cleared of the ruin of battle but stopped short before the last stronghold of the Palestinian defenders. After several postponements due to continual sniper fire, the Red Cross convoy had stopped just in front of the no-man's-land that separated the combatants. The rightist command warned that it was too risky to proceed; apparently, the defenders of Tal al Zaatar believed that the rightists would use Red Cross vehicles and workers as shields to penetrate the heart of the camp. Consequently, the rescue effort came to a grinding halt. A similar lack of trust was expressed by Abu Arz, a commander of the Guardians of the Cedars, who informed Red Cross workers that the evacuation had to be comprised of four stages, with the wounded leaving last, should the PLO or leftist forces come out shooting while shielding themselves behind their hostages or the Red Cross personnel.
With a pledge of noninterference coming from the camp, the Lebanese Front leadership "gave the green light" to the Red Cross to begin the evacuation of the wounded from Tal al Zaatar. A cease-fire went into effect. Nine trucks and two ambulances would make the first run and take out about a hundred people. The agreement, which initially was to be only a test, was negotiated between the PLO and the Red Cross by the Arab League envoy in the Christian district of Ashrafiyah, in East Beirut. On August 3, ninety-nine wounded civilian hostages were brought out of Tal al Zaatar by the Red Cross, under military escort of the rightists. The convoy crossed the demarcation line in Beirut and was greeted by a small crowd of onlookers in Moslem West Beirut. Gunmen fired salvos into the air to mark the group's safe arrival. The next day, fifteen trucks began the second run to Tal al Zaatar. Another 245 civilians were evacuated, but safety could not be guaranteed for any more runs, since shots had struck a Red Cross vehicle.
The Red Cross attempted another rescue at the beleaguered camp. However, in panic, hundreds of people, including PLO commandos, stormed aboard the Red Cross trucks, and in the confusion, other PLO troops shot into the air to quell the disturbance and regain some semblance of order. Apparently, some of the right-wing forces were confused by what they believed was incoming fire, and they shot back at the PLO commandos. Thus, the Red Cross trucks were caught in the middle of the firefight. About thirty people, including a Swiss driver, were injured in the attempt when they were hit by crossfire from opposing sides.
The Red Cross abruptly canceled all further evacuations, and shelling resumed about the camp and at Nabaa. Only seventy-four persons had been taken out that day in three of the eighteen trucks in the convoy. A rightist military leader apologized to the Red Cross for the incident indicating that the troops had responded to shots from the other side.
It was at this stage that the fighters at the camp realized that they were facing imminent defeat and began to rquest permission to surrender from their head quaters. Each time they were sent the same message: "Fight on". The Saiqa men in the camp wanting to save as many civilian lives as they could started to smuggle dozens of people each night for the next 4 nights across the adjacent orange grove to the Dekwaneh sector and hand them over to the Phalangists who held a small front there.
Chamoun's NLP Ahrar and Guardians of the Cedars troops pushed into the perimeters of the Nabaa district on a search-and-destroy mission whilest the pressure on the camp was kept up. Finally victory came at Nabaa on August 6th, where the rightist forces wiped out leftist defenders and foreign forces in a mop-up campaign, thus closing-in on Tal al Zaatar.
As soon as Nabaa fell the parasites that are always found in the shadow of armies and soldiers moved in, as had happened before in the Kantari district, to loot and pilage. This time however it was not the Muslims or leftists doing the looting but Christians. Scenes that were witnessed some months before when bodies of Lebanese fighters where dragged behind cars throughout west Beirut were now repeated as bodies of dead Palestinian fighters were dragged behind cars throughout east Beirut. When the Cedarland webmaster recently asked the Guardians field commander at the battle, Charles Akl, about such disgraceful treatment of dead fighters he said: "We were soldiers. Soldiers do not behave in such a way. We respected the dead of our enemy and hoped that they respected our fallen brothers. In war there are always those who enter the field after the battle is over to see how they may profit. It is this scum that descrated the dead inorder to impress their friends and prentend to be heroes or to show off to the ladies. Scum like these are cowards that had never fired a single shot in combat".
Elsewhere in the capital, fighting raged about the commercial district and in the suburbs. Shiyah and Ayn al-Rumanah were gutted in flames. By now some 2000 Lebanese fighters were in some way involved around Tal al Zaatar. A three-pronged attack ensued at the camp, where the rightists gained new ground in heavy fighting, taking the PFLP headquarters located deep within the confines of the camp. However, they were forced to pull back when Palestinian artillery fire was called in on the camp. The battle was turning suicidal. With the pullback, several hundred Palestinian civilians joined the besiegers and took refuge among the Christians near the camp and at Nabaa. The bulk of the Palestinian fighters, in an apparent attempt to save the civilians in the camp, finally allowed the noncombatants to leave after forty-nine days of captivity.
The end of Tal al Zaatar was in sight. Lebnese commanders called for volunteers for the last assault on the surrounded fortress. The defenders of the camp had poured barrels of oil, gasoline, and other flammable liquids about their position and were pledging to fight to the end. The incendiaries were to be ignited as the Christian forces approached underground matrix that was the last stronghold of the PLO and leftist forces. It was estimated that a third to a half of the assault force would perish in the inferno before reaching the underground complex. As the men stepped forward to volunteer commanders weeded out any person who was a sole survivor of his family. The remaining civilians poured forth from the camp over rubble-strewn streets, carrying what was left of their possessions. They were quickly transported to Moslem West Beirut after receiving immediate medical aid, food, and water. The Red Cross hastily cleared the area of refugees, although some were interrogated about the defense of the compound. According to the Red Cross, over 90 percent of the civilians were successfully evacuated before the fall of the camp.
For the last time, Lebanese command called for the unconditional surrender of the camp. They were rebuffed, as usual. The Palestinian commander at the camp implied that they would all go into a flaming hell together.
After one of the most intensive softening up barrages yet use Lebanese troops rushed the compound at which point civilians started running out brushing past Palestinians still firing from perimeter strong points. It was chaos, the stench of burning flesh permeated the air; the entrance to the complex was breached. Fighting raged on for about twenty minutes within the complex. All eyes were focused, concentrated, on the assault area. Local commanders strained to hold back additional volunteers from entering the compound.
As suddenly as the shooting started it stopped. Then the first Lebanese fighter emerged and pandemonium broke out; shots were fired into the air, and cheers filled the sky. A train of captives followed and was taken away. They were quickly searched and loaded onto three army trucks and speedily dispatched out of the war zone by the Red Cross.
And so on August 12 right wing forces finally overran the camp after a 52 day siege. Rumours of massacres at the camp started to spread in West Beirut but these proved to be greatly exagerated as most of the dead fell during the storming of the camp and not afterwards. Pierre Maltchef a Tanzim officer when asked about mistreatment of prisoners said:
"This was not our policy, but if a PLO fighter fell into the hands of a man whose family had been killed, or whose sister had been raped, or whose home had been destroyed by them, he would take his revenge. We tried to stop those who wanted to do it, but we didn't always succeed. We admit some prisoners were tortured. None of us has forgotten Damour". (Becker, The PLO)
Over the next two days the camp was bulldozed so as to prevent possible return. About 2000 people died in fighting during the entire siege, and 4,000 were wounded. The surviving cilvilians were settled by The PLO in other camps and in Damour.
John Bulloch, the Daily Telegraph correspondent in Beirut at the time wrote, "In their bitterness the Palestinian commanders ordered their artillery to open up on the fringes of the camp with the ostensible objective of hampering the attackers and helping those inside; instead the shells were landing among the hundreds who had got through the perimeter and were trying to escape. When they were told of this, the Palestinians made no attempt to lift their fire: they wanted martyrs".
Robert Fisk wrote in his biographical profile of Yasser Arafat, The broken revolutionary: "When Arafat needed martyrs in 1976, he called for a truce around the besieged refugee camp of Tel el-Zaatar, then ordered his commanders in the camp to fire at their right-wing Lebanese Christian enemies. When, as a result, the Phalangists and "Tigers" militia slaughtered their way into Tel el-Zaatar, Arafat opened a "martyrs' village" for camp widows in the sacked Christian village of Damour. On his first visit, the widows pelted him with stones and rotten fruit. Journalists were ordered away at gunpoint."
In an L.A. Weekly interview published May 30, 2002 Fisk recalls "Arafat is a very immoral person, or maybe very amoral. A very cynical man. I remember when the Tal-al-Zaatar refugee camp in Beirut had to surrender to Christian forces in the very brutal Lebanese civil war. They were given permission to surrender with a cease-fire. But at the last moment, Arafat told his men to open fire on the Christian forces who were coming to accept the surrender. I think Arafat wanted more Palestinian "martyrs" in order to publicize the Palestinian position in the war. That was in 1976. Believe me that Arafat is not a changed man."
Despite the loss of Tal al-Zaatar, the PLO still had however a massive military machine in Lebanon.
The Riyadh Conference and the Arab Deterrent Force
In October 1976 a League of Arab States (Arab League) summit conference was convened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to resolve the Lebanese crisis. The conference did not address the underlying political and demographic problems, only the security situation. The resulting multilateral agreement mandated a cease-fire and, at the Lebanese government's behest, authorized the creation of the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) to impose and supervise the cease-fire. In theory the ADF, funded by the Arab League, was to be a pan-Arab peacekeeping force under the supreme command of the Lebanese president. In reality, only about 5,000 Arab troops from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Libya, and Sudan augmented the existing Syrian forces. Moreover, Syria would not relinquish actual command over its soldiers. Therefore, the agreement in effect legitimized and subsidized any future occupation of Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
The most strenuous opposition to the ADF, ironically, was voiced by Maronite leaders who objected to the presence of Syrian troops in Maronite territory. President Sarkis held intensive meetings with the leaders of the Lebanese Front-President Faranjiyih, Pierre Gemayel of the Kataib Party, Kamil Shamoun of the National Liberal Party, and Father Sharbil Kassis of the Maronite Monastic Orders-and gradually persuaded them to agree to the new arrangement. Convincing the anti-establishment forces was largely the domain of Fatah, which exacted compliance from LNM and Palestinian Rejectionist groups. The latter at least derived consolation from the entry of "Arab" troops into Maronite territory.
In protest of the latest developments Etienne Sakr moved his Guardian fighters to the mountains of Aqoura where he set up training bases to prepare for future military operations against the Syrian forces whom he regarded as occupation troops. At a press conerence he stated:
"The Lebanese liberated territory that fought for the past 18 months to prevent the Palestinians and their mercenaries from occupying it will not allow the Arab troops to occupy them now. Our martyrs who gave their lives protecting it will not accept the exchanging a Palestinian occupation for an Arab one...In conformity with all this, and with respect to the memory of our valiant martyrs, we have decided, my fellow combatants and myself, to retire to a region of our noble mountain, calling upon the Lebanese people to support us and toil with us to prevent the foreign occupation." (10th of November, 1976)
On November 14th when Syrian troops painted their helmets green and moved into their new positions as an Arab Deterrent Force, no resistance was mounted. One explanatory factor is sheer exhaustion; after the loss of over 65,000 lives and the breakdown of fifty-five previous cease-fire agreements, the Lebanese were in no position to resume hostilities without outside assistance.
In the summer of 1977 Syria, the PLO, and the government of Lebanon signed the Shtawrah Accord, which detailed the planned disposition of the ADF in Lebanon and called for a reconstituted Lebanese Army to take over PLO positions in southern Lebanon.
On March 11, 1978, PLO terrorists made a sea landing in Haifa, Israel, commandeered a bus, and then drove toward Tel Aviv, firing from the windows. By the end of the day, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed the nine terrorists, who had murdered thirty-seven Israeli civilians. In retaliation, four days later Israel launched Operation Litani, invading Lebanon with a force of 25,000 men. The purpose of the operation was to push PLO positions away from the border and bolster the power of the SLA. The IDF first seized a security belt about ten kilometers deep, but then pushed north and captured all of Lebanon south of the Litani River, inflicting thousands of casualties.
The operation had failed to break the power of the PLO in the south and soon the PLO was able to rearm and fortify its bases in southern Lebanon to the point where Fatahland could boast the equivalent of five infantry brigades.
UNIFIL, however, encountered difficulty in performing its mission. Resolution 425 made "full cooperation of all parties concerned" a prerequisite for UNIFIL's deployment. Although Israel had agreed formally to take the necessary steps for compliance with the resolution, it did not believe that UNIFIL could stop PLO incursions across the border. Therefore, when Israel started to withdraw in late March, it refused to relinquish all of the territory it had conquered in southern Lebanon to UNIFIL. Instead, Israel turned over an enclave to its proxy force, the SLA, increasing the area under Major Haddad's control. This area included not only the ten-kilometer-deep security belt adjacent to the Israeli border but also a vertical north-south corridor running from the border to the Litani River and splitting the UNIFIL area into two noncontiguous zones.
Other parties frustrated the UNIFIL peacekeeping efforts. Although the PLO also had promised to cooperate, it argued that the 1969 Cairo Agreement entitled it to operate in southern Lebanon, and it attempted to reoccupy areas after Israel withdrew. Furthermore, on the grounds that the IDF had not occupied Tyre, the PLO refused to allow UNIFIL to police the city, and Palestinian patrols attempted repeatedly to pass through UNIFIL lines. For its part, the SLA did not even make a pretense of cooperating with UNIFIL. Instead, it attacked UNIFIL personnel and encroached on UNIFIL's perimeter. Nevertheless, UNIFIL restored order to the areas under its control and served as an effective buffer force insulating Israel from the Palestinians. It set up roadblocks, checkpoints, and observation posts, interdicting approximately ten guerrilla patrols per month heading toward Israel. When UNIFIL apprehended Palestinian guerrillas, it confiscated their weapons but usually returned them later to PLO leaders. UNIFIL paid a price for performing its mission, however; between 1978 and 1982, thirty-six UNIFIL members were killed in action.
In late 1987 the future of UNIFIL was in doubt. Ironically, Israel, which had long considered it a hindrance to its operations, changed its policy and in 1986 praised the positive role UNIFIL played in stabilizing the region. For its part, the government of Lebanon requested that UNIFIL be expanded to police almost the entire country. But at the same time, the Shias in southern Lebanon, who had traditionally supported UNIFIL, turned against the organization. In September 1986, Shia extremists started attacking UNIFIL's French contingent, and in five weeks of combat they killed four and wounded thirty. UNIFIL's casualty toll mounted and by mid-1987 stood at 139 killed and over 200 wounded. In 1986 the United States Congress cut the annual United States appropriation to UNIFIL from US$40 million to US$18 million, while France announced that it would withdraw its troops from UNIFIL in 1987.
UNIFIL however did survive and although it has been prevented from fulfilling its mandate, its contribution to stability in the region and the limited protection it has been able to provide to the local population remained important. The Force has recently been streamlined in order to achieve savings without affecting its operational effectiveness. The mandate has so far been renewed every six months.
When the Syrians began to act like an occupying army, however, the Maronites' fear of Palestinian dominance was replaced by fear of Syrian dominance. It was becoming clear by 1978 that the Syrians had come into Lebanon to stay as for years they had dreamt of annexing Lebanon. Instead of just separating the various sides the Syrians began to slowly occupy vast areas of Lebanon and stationed troops in areas that were of no strategic importance and that had seen no fighting. As contributing Arab states withdrew their contingents from the ADF Syrian dominance of the force increased dramatically, by mid 1978 all Arab troops except the Syrians had withdrawn. Syrian troops that had entered Christian areas in 1976 had not left and had become a great concern, furthermore the Syrians had started to rearm and train the leftist factions. The Lebanese Forces now looked upon the Syrians as an army of occupation and needed to act, they began to confront the Syrians. Covert Christian-Israeli co-operation tapered off after Syria intervened in June 1976 and quelled the sectarian fighting. Gemayel, recognizing that only Israel was powerful enough to expel the Syrians, renewed contact with Israel; his initiative coincided with the victory of the Likud Party in Israel's 1977 elections. The new prime minister, Menachim Begin, was more inclined to support the Christians than his predecessor, both for ideological and for tactical reasons. Begin empathized with the Christians as a kindred, embattled religious minority and promised to prevent their "genocide." At the same time, he perceived the Maronites as a fifth column in Lebanon to check the power of the Palestinians. Arms shipments were stepped up, hundreds of Phalangist and Tiger militiamen were trained in Israel, and Israeli intelligence and security advisers were dispatched to East Beirut.
The beginning of 1978 was marked by a series of bloody incidents between the Syrians and the Lebanese Forces and at one point Bashir Gemayel was arrested at a Syrian Army check point in Ashrafieh. February 7, 1978 saw a clash take place between the Lebanese Army and the Syrian Army in Fiyadieh, the site of the Lebanese Army barracks and the military command of Mount Lebanon. Near the Lebanese Army barracks the Syrians set up a check point to which the Lebanese Army objected and when the Syrians tried to seize Lebanese Army military vehicles stationed at Fayadieh fighting breaking out between them. 20 people were killed and a detachment of another 20 Syrians were captured and taken prisoner by the Lebanese Army, the next morning the bodies of two murdered Christian civilians had been found close by. The Syrians then surrounded and heavily bombarded the barracks, fighting spread to nearby districts and the Ahrar Tigers where drawn into the action against the Syrians, that afternoon the shelled Ashrafieh and attack the Ahrar HQ, but were repelled with the loss of five men. Fighting carried on into February 9th, Camille Chamoun accused the Syrians of having become an army of occupation and although Pierre and Bashir Gemayel did not order the Phalangists to engage the Syrians, many became involved voluntarily. By nightfall on February 9th fighting died down and the death toll was put at 100 Syrians and 50 Lebanese. On the 13th, hundreds of Lebanese in the south held a protest accusing the Syrians of inciting Palestinians to shell their villages and on the 16th the 20 Syrians taken prisoner were released.
Hostilities broke out again on 9th April 1978 between the Lebanese Front and the Palestinians. This latest round began after the Syrians failed to restrain the Palestinians who were firing on the Lebanese Christians. As fighting intensified the Syrians went finally into action, but against the Christians in east Beirut. On 12th and 13th they launched an extensive artillery attack on east Beirut. On the 14th a ceasefire was declared but for the Lebanese Front it was the last straw. The Lebanese Front asked and then finally ordered the Syrians to leave Beirut and the surrounding regions but to no avail. Bashir Gemayel decided to take on the Syrians, possibly emboldened by what he thought was Israel's willingness to intervene militarily in Lebanon, Bashir Gemayel launched a series of direct attacks against the Syrian army occupying Lebanon.
By the spring of 1978 Franjieh had asked the Phalange to pull out of the north so as to leave Tony in charge of the area. By now the Phalange were losing men daily as they were picked off by Marada, and Phalange members were denied basic goods and services in the north after being black listed by Marada. Attempts to reconcile the two factions at Bkerke were not successful and in May Franjieh had stopped attending Lebanese Front meetings and began courting the Syrians. Matters came to a head on June 8 1978 when a local Phalange leader, Joud el Bayeh, was murdered by six armed men sent by Tony Franjieh. Bashir Gemayel decided to strike back.
On June 13, 1978, Gemayel launched a surprise attack that decimated the Marada Brigade, Tony Franjieh was killed in the attack. The operation was lead by Samir Geagea and it was claimed by him and by Gemayel that its purpose was to arrest the killers of Bayeh and to take and hold the town of Ehden, the Franjieh summer residence, until Marada withdrew from Chekka. The Phalangist force assembled at Qnat and were in position at Ehden at 4:00 am, the main assault force struck the Franjieh residence first which was also a communication centre and weapons storage facility. During the fighting Geagea was seriously wounded in the shoulder and lost consciousness. In the assault, Tony, his wife, baby daughter, maid, dog, and some 35 of his men were killed. Withdrawal proved difficult with Syrian check points everywhere, Syrian planes also strafed the raiders. With the Marada on the streets in large numbers, many of the Phalangists had to wait until nightfall and make their way back to their lines on foot. Seven of the raiding commandos were killed.
The exact circumstances of Tony's death remain vague with accounts of Tony and his family being already dead when the Geagea strike force arrived, while other accounts claim that there were two raiding parties with Elie Hobeika leading one of them.
The 100 Days War, the Battle of Ashrafieh
On 28th June 1978 Syrian gunmen kidnapped and then killed thirty Lebanese Christians from four villages in the Bekaa Valley, the Lebanese Front claimed that this act was part of a Syrian goal to weaken the Christian community by forcing the Christians out the Bekaa. Fighting broke out and Syria rushed forces to Beirut and on July 1st 1978 unleashed a devastating artillery attack across Christian East Beirut, particularly the Phalangist stronghold of Ashrafieh, in preparation for taking over the area, and for a hundred days the Syrians pounded Ashrafieh. On 4th July Camille Chamoun called again for the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Beirut insisting that only the Lebanese Army should be responsible for security in the capital. Syria stated its conditions for a ceasefire which included further deployment of Syrian troops in the region, restrictions on the Lebanese Front, and that Lebanon cease all criticism of the Syrian media and of Syrian government policies.
On July 6th, President Sarkis announced his resignation saying that the Syrians had been carrying out operations behind his back entirely without his approval and that the Syrian conditions for a ceasefire were without logic and not acceptable. The Israelis accused the Syrians of trying to annihilate the Christian population of Lebanon and said they would not allow this to happen. Shortly afterwards, the fighting in Beirut eased. Under pressure from the Americans, Sarkis withdrew his resignation on 15th July.
The right-wing forces, consequently, prepared for a new onslaught and possible close physical combat by escorting the civilians out of the contested areas of East Beirut. No compromise had been forthcoming since the battle had ended. The Lebanese-right adamantly refused to turn over its areas to Syrian troops or to cooperate with a Syrian takeover in the capital. In fact, the Lebanese Forces called on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon and concentrate its efforts against its enemies holding the Golan Heights, which was Syrian territory. In the strongest words yet to come from the Lebanese Front, it accused Syria of trying to steal a piece of Lebanon while Israel was trying to steal a piece of Syria.
By mid- July 1978 East Beirut was ablaze once more, the mass devastation in the embattled eastern part of the capital had testified to the strength, ferocity, and effectiveness of Syria's long-range weapons. Still, however, all attempts to take the Ayn al-Rumanah district failed, although battles continued in the suburb of al-Hadath. In that battle, the pine trees that overlooked the town were set aflame by artillery fire and explosions were heard as far away as the western edge of the capital. After four days of indiscriminate heavy shelling, al-Hadath continued to hold out, its defenders having repulsed both infantry and mechanized assaults, but at a high cost in lives on both sides. Thus, as July drew to a close, the Syrians broke off hostilities and the Lebanese Army took up positions in the hillside suburb of al-Hadath.
The military encounters in and around the capital had eased off by early August, but both parties to the hostilities were preparing for a major showdown. The Syrian-sponsored ADF was prepared, at all costs it seemed, to end the power of both the Phalangists and the NLP. The rightists, on the other hand, were determined to stop Syria from making Lebanon its new province or colony. The PLO and its leftist allies stood on the sidelines, preparing to gain from the collapse of either Syrian or rightist strength.
As Beirut was still recovering from earlier combat, heavy fighting began north of the capital. The fighting, in the vicinity of al-Batroun, enabled the Syrians to gain their first victory over the Lebanese Forces by taking Koura. Once Koura had been captured, the Syrians renewed their campaign in the capital by infiltrating the Shiyah district.
Shells smashed into Ayn al-Rumanah, sending civilians scurrying for cover, but the shelling was answered in kind. This time, the Syrians were close enough to be hit by rightist batteries, which could reach deep into the Shiyah district and pinpoint Syrian field pieces. The Syrians and the Lebanese Forces swapped both artillery and rocket fire, pounding each other in a crescendo of death and destruction.
Syrian shelling was merciless and it was reported that just about every building in east Beirut was hit, causalities were in the thousands and on the 27th all US embassy personnel and their dependants were evacuated from Lebanon causing much alarm in east Beirut. At a press conference Etienne Sakr head of the Guardians of the Cedars explained the situation:
"At last, the Syrian game in Lebanon is revealed. And when we retired to the Lebanese mountain in November 1976, to protest the entrance of Arab troops to Lebanon, we were aware of our action, and events have established that our anticipations were correct...The Lebanese at first welcomed the wolf coming disguised as a sheep, believing that the war was ended and peace will return to their ailing Lebanon... But the wolf quickly shed his disguise and, showing his fangs, they set out to devour the Lebanese people... He started with submitting them to all kinds of intimidations and terrorism... like kidnapping, precautionary arrests, physical abuse and liquidation... And instead of confining the Palestinians to their encampments, as they promised, they tried everything to bring the Lebanese to their knees... And there was the explosion... the war was resumed... but this time with greater ferocity, greater rancor and greater destruction." (8th of August, 1978)
President Sarkis implored Pierre Gemayel to help halt the mini-war between Syria and Lebanon. Gemayel retorted that he would lend his aid to a cease-fire effort only if Sarkis would pressure Syria to end its misconduct in the capital and have the ADF act as an impartial peacekeeping force rather than a conqueror. Gemayel punctuated his point by saying that the Lebanese were not waiting for anyone to conquer and rule them.
Syria's response to Gemayel's statement came swiftly, with new mechanized reinforcements lumbering into the city, tearing up the asphalt streets along their way. Heavy action pierced the entire expanse of Syrian-dominated West Beirut. Artillery fire and incendiary weapons ignited fires that burned through the night in the Christian areas of Ayn al-Rumanah and al-Hadath. The morning breezes sprinkled ash and cinders about the capital--its "Lebanese snow," as a foreign correspondent commented sadly, according to Le Monde.
An Israeli buildup on the border slowed the fighting in the capital; some Syrian troops were hastily transferred to the South. Moreover, of even greater significance for Lebanon's future was the overwhelming catastrophe that struck the Shi'ite community and its military forces. Imam Musa al-Sadr, their spiritual leader, had left for Tripoli, Libya, on August 25, 1978, to attend a celebration of the Libyan revolution, which had ousted that nation's corrupt and tyrannical monarchy. Sadr had been a pro-Libyan Moslem fundamentalist. For his loyalty to the Libyan revolution and its leader, Mu'ammar Qaddafi had poured millions of dollars into Sadr's coffers in order to put an end to the "Christian" Lebanese State. Consequently, the Shi'ite leader's attendance at the festive occasion was paramount.
Soon after Sadr's arrival in Libya, he was reported missing, and Lebanese of all factions were anxious and concerned about his whereabouts and safety. In investigating the circumstances of his disappearance, the Shi'ites of South Lebanon claimed that he had traveled to Tripoli to extract his community from the Moslem-leftist alliance. As reported by the Libyan Press Agency, Jana, Sadr informed Qaddafi that the war against the Maronites was unjustified. Palestinian conduct in Lebanon was disgraceful and that the Shiites were being abused by the Palestinains. The Shi'ite alliance with the PLO brought devastating Israeli reprisal raids against the Shi'ite villages causing his people to flee north, and no Moslem state was expected to emerge in Lebanon. According to Sadr's entourage, Qaddafi accused the Imam of spending "Libyan money" to finance a Shi'ite revolution in Iran. Since then, the Shi'ites of Lebanon have held the Libyan leader responsible for the disappearance and presumed death of their religious leader.
Meanwhile, Syria and the Lebanese Forces remained locked in combat near the Karantina Bridge leading north towards Jounieh. Pierre Gemayel pressed President Sarkis to ask for UN intervention to end the confrontation, and to do so quickly before the president's credibility with the Lebanese right had disappeared.
The savage warfare had approximated the intensity of the battles for Beirut a few years ago. Saturation fire from Syrian gunners had reduced part of the Christian enclave to a vast wasteland. Ambulances and helicopters ferried wounded Syrian soldiers out of the battle zone in an ever-increasing line of traffic. At night the city was devoid of light, due to the failure of electrical power sources. The dusk and dawn were obscured by cumbersome black clouds of smoke that rose from the city, darkening the sky and casting the desolate capital in an awesome and eerie light. To the terrified observers, it seemed as if the sun would never shine again. The cosmopolitan world of Beirut appeared to be coming to an abrupt end.
The Lebanese Forces fought back ferociously and even though the Syrians managed to break through into Ashrafieh, a Lebanese Forces counter attack ejected them with the Syrians taking heavy losses. Large street battles also took place around the Rizk tower where the Syrians had been dug in. The main rightist supply routes were severed by Syrian forces; missiles, tanks, and heavy artillery pounded the rightist defense line.
Syrian Army trucks, filled to capacity with dead and dying soldiers, joined the train of ambulances taking the Syrians out of the capital. Syria had committed most of its forces in the northern half of Lebanon into battle, and reinforcements continued to pour into Lebanon, tapping Syria's reserves. The Syrians, however, held the bridges in the north against savage rightist counterattacks. If the rightists could not breach the defenses near the Karantina Bridge to gain aid from northern Lebanon, then they would eventually be doomed to defeat. Syrian strategy would win in the long run. The rightists hoped to hold out in a war of attrition to convince the Syrians that they could not take over the Christian section of Beirut without devastating casualties. The UN Security Council called for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon, and President Sarkis appealed to President Assad to end the flaming hell he had created in Beirut.
By the end of the first week of October, Syria had halted its offensive but maintained its seige. It had proven too costly for the Syrian regime. Syrian hospitals were filled to capacity with the dying and the wounded. Not since the last Arab-Israeli war had Syria seen its forces return home so badly mauled.
The unilateral cease-fire held with only some residual fighting near the Karantina and Beirut River regions. Scattered shelling and sniper fire continued, but these exchanges were only limited and isolated instances. Radio Free Lebanon, a rightist station, called the battle a victory for the Lebanese Forces. Meanwhile, President Sarkis left for Saudi Arabia to discuss the fighting.
While the Lebanese head of state was outside the country, Syrian forces sent rocket fire cascading down on the rightist-held positions, forcing Bashir Gemayel to appeal to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to help end the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. The heavy action kept the rightist troops at bay at the strategic Beirut River bridges, thus continuing their isolation from their strongholds in the North. The Syrians, meanwhile, were resupplying their forces and ferrying al-Saiqa units into the area.
It has been said that in pitting his meagre force of a few thousand fighters against three divisions of the Syrian Army, Gemayel was taking a calculated gamble that Israel would come to his rescue. Gemayel's brinkmanship was vindicated. The Israelis threatened to go to war to preserve the Maronite community. To emphasize the point, Israeli jets overflew Syrian positions and the Israelis massed troops in the Golan Heights. The threat worked. On the 9th October 1978 Syrian forces began to pull back.
In the Syrian capital, Presidents Sarkis and Assad agreed on a tentative settlement designed to stabilize the cease-fire. Syria had agreed, for the first time, to turn over some of its peacekeeping duties in the Christian sector to the Lebanese Army and withdraw its forces to more remote areas. The Syrian move was a tacit admission that the Lebanese-right had been fighting a largely defensive war in support of Lebanese sovereignty.
The Extinction of the Tigers
On Monday, July 7, 1980, the Phalangists launched a surprise attack against Chamoun's National Liberal Party Militia, the Tigers. The attack was aimed against their barracks, ports, and offices in a villa next door to Safra Marine in Kesrouen with the aim of assimiliting the Tigers into the LF under one command. Bashir had originally planned the attack for 4:00 am but because of the events at Ehden the attack was put back to 10:00 am so as to spare Dany Chamoun who by then would have left his offices for an appointment in the mountains.
Contrary to most accounts found in the popular books regarding Lebanon there was no battle or massacre at Safra Marine. Dany had moved out of East Beirut and taken over a villa that used to border Safra Marine immediatly to its south. Dany kept a boat at Safra Marine and would walk through the grounds of the villa and across Safra Marine to get to his boat. As a result it was thought by some that he resided at Safra. Some weeks before the operation a couple of LF agents had successfully applied for jobs at Safra so as to asses the situation.
On the day of the attack LF fighters hidden in a civilian truck were let into Safra Marine by their agents and deployed around Dany's villa. Tracy Chamoun who was inside the villa saw the deployment and opened fire. After a very brief gun-fight it was explained that no harm was going to come to the residents of the villa and that they were free to leave. Some one hour later, after some negotiation, the villa was vacated. The only injury at Safra was a wounded Sri Lankan worker hit by a stray bullet.
Heavy fighting did however break out around Tabarja Beach and at Rabiyeh Marine which were both popular resorts with the Tigers and it was here where there were civilian casualities. At Rabiyeh Marine where some Tiger militiamen had fallen back, a few captured Tigers were thrown to their deaths from the upper floor balconies of the complex.
The Tiger barracks at Amchit were captured after holding out for most of the day. The 'Day of Long Knives' as it became to be called claimed around 200 lives around half of which were civilians who had been caught during indiscriminate shooting. After the operation Bashir Gemayel emerged as the dominant Maronite military leader and by the end of October 1980 the main bulk of the Tiger militia was totally absorbed into the Lebanese Forces and lost their separate command and identity, the only exception being a small unit in Zahle. Bashir Gemayel then announced that all of the individual militias of the various parties of the Lebanese Front would disband and their troops combine as one fighting force under his command in the Lebanese Forces. Thus the various militias such as the Tanzim and other that had taken an active part in the war ceased to exist. The Guardians of the Cedars however managed to maitain their identity under the new structure.
The Battle of Zahle
Zahle, the capital of Bekaa Province in eastern Lebanon, had a population of some 150,000 which was primarily Greek Catholic, and it was in the heart of the Syrian occupied zone of Lebanon and lay on the vital Beirut-Damascus highway. Throughout the war Zahle suffered many sieges and attacks by leftist and Palestinian forces but its people always managed to hold out, fighting alongside the small contingent of Lebanese Front militia that were based there.
The location of Zahle made it of such importance that the Syrians felt they had to control the city and needed a reason to station their troops there. In December 1980, the Palestinian forces around Zahle were incited by the Syrians to shell the city and on the 19th heavy fighting broke out between the Syrians and the small Lebanese Forces contingent after the Syrians sent a patrol down the Zahle Boulevard, the patrol was attacked and five Syrian soldiers and one Syrian Major were killed. Although the Syrian command acknowledged sending the patrol into Zahle and the resulting deaths as accidental, Syria demanded the surrender of the persons involved in the incident to its command. A forty-eight-hour ultimatum was served to the Zahle leadership and also to the Phalangist and NLP commanders of the district. When a unanimously negative reply was returned, Syrian forces besieged the city with troops and tanks under artillery cover. The incident at Zahle enabled the Syrians to take advantage of the prevailing instability in the rightist coalition and the weakness of the Beirut government. In day-long battles, the Syrian forces were repulsed time and again as both General Said Taiyan and Syria's Defense Minister, Major-General Mustafa Tlas, were rushed to the scene to study the unexpectedly strong resistance. At the same time, Bashir Gemayel put his forces on full alert; however, he held the doors open for a negotiated settlement. During the fighting two Syrian helicopters were also hit as they tried to bring in reinforcements. The Lebanese Forces command rushed Guardians of the Cedars troops from Beirut in support of the local forces in Zahle.
A ceasefire was quickly imposed on December 26 1980 and fighting soon died down but blood had been drawn.
Not wanting Zahle to be cut off from Mount Lebanon and to reduce its vulnerability to siege, the Lebanese Forces began constructing a road linking Baskinta to Zahle so as to avoid passing through Syrian held territory. The Syrians were against the contsruction of the road and responded by again surrounding Zahle with 2600 troops. The people of Zahle started take up arms and prepaired for the inevitable Syrian assualt. On April 2nd 1981 Syria began bombarding the city. At the start of the battle the Syrian commander announced that his troops had moved to evict the Lebanese Forces from Zahle as it was vital for Syrian security to prevent the construction of the road between Mount Lebanon and Zahle.
On the first day of battle the Syrians tried to seize the high ground above the city but were repelled with the loss of three armoured vehicles and the death of over twenty soldiers and so the next day the Syrians retaliated with an artillery barrage on east Beirut which inflicted heavy civilian casualties. For days the Syrians launched assualt after assault and the city but were unable to breach the defences of Zahle due to the stiff resistance put up by the people of Zahle themselves as well as the small number of troops stationed there. Syrian forces in the capital were redeployed to Zahle to bolster artillery fire, which was rapidly turning central Zahle into ruins. The population of Zahle refused to surrender and so it was decided by the Syrians that they would force it to submission through siege. Ghassan Tueni, Lebanon's delegate to the United Nations, called for UNIFIL forces to take over the Zahle region. As the situation grew critical, Lebanon's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Hassan al-Khalid, joined with Pope John Paul II in expressing concern over the intensive fighting. Both men reasserted the obvious fact that the conflict in Lebanon was not religious in nature.
At the start of 1981 Syria had launched its "Program of National Reconciliation," which was designed to install Sulayman Franjieh as president. Bashir Gemayel found the proposition unpalatable, but he was impotent to oppose it politically. Therefore, to strengthen his position he desperately needed a victory in Zahle. Bashir Gemayel needed to reinforce Zahle and managed to infiltrate another 100 Lebanese Forces militiamen into the city to support the forces already there and to attack Syrian positions and to shell the Syrian headquarters in the adjacent town of Shtawrah.
By the last week of April, two ineffectual cease-fires had collapsed and Syrian Mig jets had strafed the outskirts of the beleaguered town. This was, apparently, an attempt to show the Phalangists that Syria still had an open option--air power. The Zahle defenders could either surrender or face annihilation by air attack. The air raid was followed by a land-based missile attack, using Soviet-made Grad rockets. The attacks drove the Lebanese Forces from the outlying city buildings, giving the Syrians their first, tentative, victory.
The town sagged under heavy fire as its defenders began to run low on food, medical supplies, and ammunition. An attempt to break out and reach the suburbs of Beirut was abruptly terminated by Syrian special forces in their distinctive tiger-patterned uniforms. Supply lines were set up from Ouyoun El Simman and Baskinta. The weather conditions were terrible with heavy snow covering the mountain peaks over which many of the supplies were brought in on foot.They were aided by tactical air power. The siege of Zahle was beginning to resemble a new version of the campaign for Tal Zaatar.
At the end of April, the Syrians had entered into direct negotiations with the Zahle leadership and had reached a tentative accord. The agreement called for a pullback by the Syrians, the safe removal of the right-wing militiamen, and the assignment of the Lebanese police to secure the town. The Phalangists considered the agreement a victory, for it ended Syrian attempts to infiltrate the city.
However, Syria would not accept a plan that insulted its prerogatives and disputed its power and authority in Lebanon. President Assad ordered artillery fire and helicopter assaults against the Phalangist fortifications. The choppers flew Syrian special forces into battle for Mt. Sannin, in the hills above Zahle, which overlooked and guarded the Bekaa Valley. The Syrian troops, rappelling downward from the choppers, ran into a group of militiamen on patrol and a fire-fight ensued. The Lebanese Front ordered its negotiating team in Zahle to cut off all talks with the Syrians. Pulling out at this point, was seen as a defeat for Syria. The Syrian Air Force went into action, strafing Gharfat al-Fransawiye, a mountain stronghold of the militia, about eight miles west of Zahle. The second air attack came on the twenty-sixth day of the conflict.
Soon afterward, the Syrian forces began to move against the hilltop emplacements above the city, which had been established and fortified by the Lebanese Forces to protect the main entrance to the city. Bashir Gemayel ordered his entombed militia to fight to the end, pledging every possible effort to reach them with additional supplies and manpower. Meanwhile, Syrian reinforcements poured into the battle, creating traffic congestion along the Beirut-Damascus highway and its arterials. The hills above Zahle became the prime targets for Syrian gunners. The town itself was completely encircled, with Syrian soldiers holding all access points under tight siege. The Lebanese Forces in Zahle had been badly mauled and battered, but their fighting spirit was undiminished. Moreover, the Syrians knew this, for they had committed approximately half their force of twenty-two thousand men to the campaign. The mountain strongholds, which overlooked Zahle, remained in rightist hands, forcing the Syrian command to send additional airborne troops into battle.
As the fighting intensified Gemayel called an urgent meeting with Begin and convinced him that the Syrians intended to follow through on the siege with an all-out attack on the Christian heartland and urged Israel to launch an air strike against the Syrians. On April 28, the Israeli cabinet convened and authorized a limited air strike, but it did so over the strident objections of Israel's intelligence chiefs, who suspected that the crisis was a Lebanese Forces ploy. Israeli fighter jets carried out the raid and downed two Syrian helicopter troop transports on Mount Sannine, a strategic mountain overlooking Zahle. The brief air battle astronomically raised tensions to a new climax by pitting the Syrians against their archenemy, the Israelis. The Syrians backed off a bit but then resumed an around-the-clock artillery bombardment of the town, pledging to leave it in total devastation, a pile of rubble for the Phalangists to sift through, if it refused to surrender.
Moreover, to counter the Israeli moves, Syria introduced at least nine antiaircraft missiles, SAM-6s, near the Riyaq air base, in the Bekaa Valley. Under the cover of the missiles, the Syrians sent land forces up Mt. Sannin and took it from its defenders in heavy, bloody, close combat. The rightists were exhausted and had run out of ammunition and supplies. Zahle however, held fast, repulsing one attack after another.
As the days went on sharp differences erupted within the Lebanese Forces in Zahle as to how to best defend the city. The forces in Zahle had been unprepared for a big showdown. Fuad Abou Nader and Boutros Khawand were dispatched to settle matters as well as the commander of the LF armored battalion, Joseph Elias who was himself from Zahle and had a tough reputation. However, they failed to reconcile the field commanders.
By the time Samir Geagea arrived the Lebanese Forces command headquarters had been wrecked by Syrian shelling and the officers were in complete disarray. Geagea decided to immediately return to Beirut and left in the middle of the night via Wadi Al Arayesh with about 40 troops who had also decided to return to Beirut fed up with the break down of the command structure. Geagea's report stated that the city was a total military loss but Bashir refused to abandon Zahle.
The siege of Zahle and heavy fighting continued throughout May and reached its formal end on 30th June when it was agreed that both sides would withdraw their forces. Local Lebanese Forces troops had to disarm and forces from Beirut had to leave. The security of Zahle was handed over to Lebanese government internal security forces. The Syrians would be allowed to maintain check points around Zahle to prevent the Lebanese Forces form returning. Trucks and buses were provided to evacuate the Lebanese Forces fighters and 95 returned to Beirut on the 1st of July 1981. Over the next couple of days the Syrians pulled out of their fortifications about the city. Failure to defeat Zahle was a humiliation for the Syrians and a victory for Bashir Gemayel. Of far greater significance, however, was the exceptionally strong resistance put forth by the right-wing militiamen. They had shown considerable strength and resourcefulness, tenacity, and spirit in blunting the Syrian thrust. For the time being, the Syrians would forgo any attempt to advance against other towns in the predominantly Christian part of northern Lebanon.
The civilian casualties were 223 killed and 765 wounded with very heavy material damage. Many died many because of a lack of medical supplies and also as a result of the water being purposely cut off by the Syrians causing epidemics to break out.
Gemayel persevered in his plot to embroil Israel in a full scale war with Syria. In late 1980, after a series of meetings with Begin, he reportedly obtained a secret Israeli pledge to provide a defensive umbrella against a potential Syrian air attack. This pledge virtually committed Israel to fight Syria at Gemayel's behest, although Israel admonished the Lebanese Forces not to attack the Syrians.
Begin vowed publicly that the IDF would launch an attack on the missiles. In response, President Ronald Reagan dispatched to the Middle East Special Ambassador Philip Habib, who averted the imminent Israeli strike. The net effect of the crisis was that Syrian air defense missiles were deployed in Lebanon. Israel was forced to tolerate this situation in the short run, but it still regarded the missile deployment as an unacceptable shift in the balance of forces that could not be endured indefinitely. Therefore, Israel had reasons of its own for a future attack on the Syrians in Lebanon.
The PLO fought back by shelling the Israeli resort town of Nahariyya on the Mediterranean coast. The conflict escalated as Israel launched a devastating air raid against the heavily populated Palestinian neighborhood of Fakhani in West Beirut, killing over 100 people and wounding over 600. By Israeli estimates, only thirty of those killed were terrorists. For ten days, the PLO then unleashed artillery fire against the upper Galilee. Although only six Israeli citizens were killed, many Israelis were shocked and stunned by the PLO's capability to sustain such an attack.
On July 24, Ambassador Habib returned to Israel to negotiate an end to the artillery duel. Because the PLO was almost out of ammunition and most of its guns had been silenced, the IDF wanted to prolong the fighting until it could win a clear-cut victory. But the Israeli cabinet was eager to comply with Habib's cease-fire proposal, and Israel entered into a truce with the PLO.
PLO leader Yasir Arafat was determined not to break the ceasefire. On a political level, the truce enhanced the PLO's diplomatic credibility. Tactically, it allowed the PLO time to reinforce its military strength in southern Lebanon. The Soviet Union refused to provide the PLO with weapons, but PLO emissaries purchased arms from East European countries and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), acquiring Grad and Katyusha artillery rockets and antiquated but functional T-34 tanks. More significant, Arafat reorganized the command and control structure of his forces, transforming the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) from a decentralized collection of terrorist and guerrilla bands to a disciplined standing army. By 1981 the Kastel, Karami, and Yarmuk brigades were established, and seven new artillery battalions were organized. Tension remained very high in the region.
On June 3, 1982, terrorists of the Abu Nidal Organization, a group that had split off from the PLO, attempted to assassinate Shlomo Argov, the Israeli ambAssador to Britain. Israel seized on the attack as the pretext for launching its long-planned offensive. On June 4, IDF aircraft bombed Palestinian targets in West Beirut, and the PLO resumed artillery fire on Israeli settlements in the northern Galilee.
The Israeli cabinet convened and voted to authorize an invasion, named Operation Peace for Galilee, but it set strict limits on the extent of the incursion. The IDF was to advance no farther than forty kilometers, the operation was to last only twenty-four hours, Syrian forces were not to be attacked, and Beirut was not to be approached.
Because of the limits imposed by the Isaraeli cabinet, the IDF implemented its attack in increments, neither openly recognizing nor acknowledging its destination and objectives. Had it been ordered from the outset to secure Beirut, it could have done so in an effective and efficient manner. Instead, the IDF advance unfolded in an ad hoc and disorganized fashion, greatly increasing the difficulty of the operation.
When IDF ground forces crossed into Lebanon on June 6, they pursued a battle strategy that entailed a three-pronged attack conducted by five divisions and two reinforced brigade-size units. On the western axis, two divisions converged on Tyre and proceeded north along the coastal road toward Sidon, where they were to link up with an amphibious commando unit that had secured a beachhead north of the city. In the central sector, a third division veered diagonally across southern Lebanon, conquered the Palestinian-held Beaufort Castle, located a few kilometers southwest of Marj Uyun, and headed west toward Sidon, where it linked up with the coastal force in a classic pincer movement. The IDF advanced rapidly in the first day of the war, bypassing and enveloping pockets of PLO resistance. Most PLO military officers fled, abandoning their men, who split into small roving guerrilla bands. Moreover, it became clear that the PLO was fighting alone against the Israeli onslaught. The Shia Amal guerrillas had been ordered by their leaders not to fight and to surrender their weapons if necessary. South Lebanon's Shias had long suffered under Palestinian domination, and Shia villagers welcomed the advancing Israelis by showering them with rice and flowers. This traditional form of homage, later repeated by the Druze and Christian populations, lent credence to the Israeli claim that it was "liberating" Lebanon.
But Palestinian resistance proved tenacious, particularly in the sprawling refugee camps in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. Staging hit-and-run operations and fighting in house-to- house and hand-to-hand combat, the Palestinians inflicted a high number of casualties of the IDF and impeded the progress of the Israeli advance. The IDF was further hampered because the refugee camps were inhabited by large numbers of civilian noncombatants who harbored the Palestinian fighters. Although the IDF made significant initial efforts to evacuate the civilians, it ultimately resorted to saturation bombing to subdue the camps. Palestinian resistance was especially fierce in the Ayn al Hulwah camp near Sidon, where several hundred Palestinian fighters fought to the last man, delaying the IDF advance for seven days. After the camp was leveled, the IDF stood poised to move against Beirut.
Two days later in the central combat zone, two divisions thrust directly north on parallel courses into Syrian-held territory with the mission of severing the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway. On June 8, the IDF evicted the Syrian Army from Jezzine and proceeded north.
The IDF could not proceed further against the entrenched Syrian positions without close air support, but Syria's air defense systems threatened Israeli control of the skies. On June 9, the Israeli cabinet gave permission for an air raid against the Syrian antiaircraft missile batteries in the Biqa Valley. The Syrians, caught by surprise, sustained severe losses; of the nineteen missile batteries, only two were left intact by the Israeli attack. The Syrian Air Force made a desperate bid to protect the air defense system by sending up scores of interceptors and fighters, resulting in what both sides described as the biggest air battle in history, with over 200 aircraft engaged in supersonic dogfights over a 2,500 square kilometer area. The Israeli Air Force shot down twenty-nine Syrian aircraft in the first encounter of that day, and later about fifty more. In fact, during the entire operation, the Syrians would lose a total of 90 aircraft in air to air combat without a single Israeli loss. The devastation of the Syrian air defense system and the decimation of the Syrian Air Force provided the IDF with total air superiority in Lebanon and left the Syrian infantry exposed to air attack.
All did not go so smoothly however for the Israelis. On the 10th of June an Israeli battle group of M60 tanks was leading the push to the highway when they ran into serious trouble between Ain Zhalta and Ain Dara. The Syrians had been shelling the road so the Israelis advanced at night. The going was slow and just outside of Ain Dara they were ambushed by a brigade of Syrian commandos, artillery, and armour approximately five kilometres short of the highway. The Syrian commandos came in so close that at one point they were actually climbing onto the Israeli tanks to ensure their kills. The commander of the supporting artillery battery had to fire anti personnel rounds on top of his own takes so as to dislodge the attacking Syrians. Gradually a corridor was opened to enable the Israelis to pull back around dawn. With day break on the 11th June the Israeli Air Force was able to go into action and destroyed the Syrian tank and gun positions with the aid of another tank column. Syrian reinforcements were caught en route by Israeli ground attack aircraft. At the same time, the IDF continued to maul 1st Armoured Division of the Syrian army in a battle that started on 9th June north of Lake Qaraoun and raged on for three days. By the afternoon of the 11th about half of the Syrian 1st Armoured Division had been destroyed and the rest were on the retreat.
The IDF had broken the last line of Syria's defence but owing to political pressures, however, on June 11 Israel and Syria agreed to a truce under United States auspices and the Israeli advance stopped just a couple of kilometres short of the Beirut-Damascus highway.
Israel maintained the siege of Beirut for seventy days, unleashing a relentless barrage of air, naval, and artillery bombardment. At times, the Israeli bombardment appeared to be random and indiscriminate; at other times, it was targeted with pinpoint precision. Israeli strategists believed that if they could "decapitate" the Palestinian movement by killing its leaders, Palestinian resistance would disappear. Therefore, the Israeli Air Force conducted what has been called a "manhunt by air" for Arafat and his top lieutenants and on several occasions bombed premises only minutes after the PLO leadership had vacated them.
If the PLO was hurt physically by the bombardment, the political fallout was just as damaging to Israel. The appalling civilian casualties earned Israel world opprobrium. Morale plummeted among IDF officers and enlisted men, many of whom personally opposed the war. Meanwhile, the highly publicized plight of the Palestinian civilians garnered world attention for the Palestinian cause. Furthermore, Arafat was negotiating, albeit through intermediaries, with Ambassador Habib and other United States officials. Negotiating with Arafat was thought by some to be tantamount to United States recognition of the PLO.
The Expulsion of the Palestinians
Arafat had threatened to turn Beirut into a "second Stalingrad," to fight the IDF to the last man. His negotiating stance grew tenuous, however, after Lebanese leaders, who had previously expressed solidarity with the PLO, petitioned him to abandon Beirut to spare the civilian population further suffering. Arafat informed Habib of his agreement in principle to withdraw the PLO from Beirut on condition that a multinational peacekeeping force be deployed to protect the Palestinian families left behind. With the diplomatic deadlock broken, Habib made a second breakthrough when Syria and Tunisia agreed to host departing PLO fighters. An advance unit of the Multinational Force (MNF), 350 French troops, arrived in Beirut on August 21. The Palestinian evacuation by sea to Cyprus and by land to Damascus commenced on the same day. On August 26, the remaining MNF troops arrived in Beirut, including a contingent of 800 United States Marines. The Palestinian exodus ended on September 1. Over 11,000 Palestinian fighters including some 8,000 Fateh guerrillas, 2,600 PLA regulars, as well as 3,600 Syrian troops had been evacuated from west Beirut. However there were still some 10,000 Palestinian fighters in Lebanon the mainly in the northern section Bekaa valley north and around Tripoli.
Taking stock of the war's toll, Israel announced that 344 of its soldiers had been killed and over 2,000 wounded. Israel calculated that hundreds of Syrian soldiers had been killed and over 1,000 wounded and that 1,000 Palestinian guerrillas had been killed and 7,000 captured. Lebanese estimates, compiled from International Red Cross sources and police and hospital surveys, calculated that 17,825 Lebanese had died and over 30,000 had been wounded.
On August 23, the legislature elected Bashir Gemayel president of Lebanon. On September 10, the United States Marines withdrew from Beirut, followed by the other members of the MNF. The Lebanese Army began to move into West Beirut, and the Israelis withdrew their troops from the front lines. But the war was far from over. By ushering in Gemayel as president and evicting the PLO from Beirut, Israel had attained two of its key war goals. Israel's remaining ambition was to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with Lebanon that would entail the withdrawal of Syrian forces and prevent the PLO from reinfiltrating Lebanon after the IDF withdrew.
The Assasination of Bashir Gemayel
At 4:10 pm on September 14, 1982, President-elect Gemayel was assassinated in a massive radio-detonated explosion that leveled the Phalange Party headquarters in East Beirut where he was delivering a speech to party members. The perpetrator, Habib Shartouny, 26, was soon apprehended. Shartouny, a member of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party (SSNP), was a Syrian agent. Mossad, the CIA, and Israeli military intelligence, pooling there resources with the Lebanese intelligence community established that Chartouny had installed a long range electronic detonator to a bomb made of Semtex-H which had been smuggled into the building where Chartouny's sister lived. Her apartment was directly above the Phalange offices. Chartouny's case officer was a captain in the Syrian intelligence service called Nassif, who reported directly to Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed G'anen who was in charge of Syrian intelligence operations in Lebanon. Both the Syrian Army and Air Force intelligence had knowledge of the bombing as did Hafez al-Assad's brother Rifaat al-Assad, head of Syria's security forces. President Assad would have probably given the order himself but there was no proof.
Bashir Gemayel's brother, Amin, who was opposed to the Israeli presence in Lebanon, was elected president with United States backing.
Sabra and Shatila
On Wednesday 15 September 1982 shortly after 6:00 a.m. the I.D.F. began to enter west Beirut. During the first hours of the I.D.F. entry, there was no armed resistance to the advance because the guerrillas that were in West Beirut had been taken by surprise. Within a few hours, the I.D.F. encountered fire from guerrillas in a number of places in west Beirut, and combat operations began. The resistance caused delays in the I.D.F.'s taking over a number of points in the city and caused a change in the route of advance. In the course of this fighting three I.D.F. soldiers were killed and more than 100 were wounded. Heavy fire coming out of Shatilla was directed at one I.D.F. battalion advancing east of the camp. One of the battalion's soldiers was killed, 20 were injured, and the advance of the battalion in this direction was halted. Throughout Wednesday and to a lesser degree on Thursday and Friday (16-17.9.82), R.P.G. and light-weapons fire from the Sabra and Shatilla camps was directed at the Israeli forward command post and the battalion's forces nearby. Fire was returned by the I.D.F. forces.
It was not possible to obtain exact details on the size of the population in the refugee camps in Beirut. An estimate of the numbers in the four camps in west Beirut (Burj el-Barajneh, Fakahni, Sabra and Shatilla) was about 85,000 people. The war led to the flight of the population, but when the fighting subsided, a movement back to the camps began. According to estimates, in mid-September 1982 there were about 56,000 people in the Sabra and Shatila camps in total.
Over the previous few months, as the number of I.D.F. casualties mounted, public pressure for the Lebanese Forces to participate more in fighting increased. It was agreed at that a company of 150 fighters from the Lebanese Forces would enter the camps and that they would do so from south to north and from west to east to rout the remnant of the Palestinian forces and search for arms dumps. The IDF ordered its soldiers to refrain from entering the camps, but IDF officers supervised the operation from the roof of a six story forward command post building overlooking parts of the area.
On Thursday, 16.9.82, at approximately 6:00 pm, the Lebanese Forces entered the Shatilla camp in two groups from the west and south. The militiamen were mostly LF under the command of Elie Hobeika, a former close aide of Bashir Gemayel. With the entry of the Lebanese Forces into the camps, the firing which had been coming from the camps changed direction; the shooting which had previously been directed against the I.D.F. now shifted in the direction of the Lebanese Forces' liaison officer on the roof of the forward command post.
According to the report of the Kahan Commission established by the government of Israel to investigate the events, the IDF monitored the Lebanese Forces radio network and fired illumination flares from mortars and aircraft to light the area as the LF were operating in the dark.
At approximately 8:00 p.m., the Lebanese Forces' liaison officer, said that the Lebanese Forces who had entered the camps had sustained casualties, and the casualties were evacuated from the camps. Around this time the liaison officer also told various people that about 300 persons had been killed by the Lebanese Forces among them civilians, but shortly after, he amended his report by reducing the number of casualties from 300 to 120.
On Saturday, 18.9.82 at dawn the LF forces started to leave the camps and the last of their forces left the camps at approximately 8:00 a.m. By now reports had been circulated about a massacre in the camps and many journalists and media personnel arrived in the area. At about 17:00 hours, the Israelis met with a representative of the Lebanese army and appealed to him to have the Lebanese army enter the camps. Between 21:30 and 22:00 hours a reply was received that the Lebanese army would enter the camps. Lebanese army entry into the camps was effected on Sunday, 19.9.82. Red Cross personnel, many journalists and other persons also entered, and it then became apparent that in the camps, and particularly in Shatilla, civilians had been massacred. It was clear from the spectacle that presented itself that a considerable number of the killed had not been cut down in combat.
Over a period of two days, the militiamen massacred some 700 to 800 Palestinian men, women, and children. Accurate figures are not available but according to Robert Fisk, the total number of deaths in the camps given by the Director of Israeli Military Intelligence is 700, the International Committee for the Red Cross put the figure at 313 writes Jonathan Randal, with another 43 being counted by civil defence organizations and at least another 146 being buried by friends and relatives. Thomas Friedman, who won a Pulitzer price for his coverage of the massacre quotes an official Red Cross figure of 210 and an unofficial estimated death toll of between 800 and 1,000.
The Lebanese inquest into the massacre produced some very interesting results. After an exhaustive questioning of eyewitnesses to the atrocity, More than one scenario was pieced together. There is general agreement on the above events however another version of events that is not often reported also emerged. Apparently, two groups of armed men, acting independently of each other, entered the two camps and began a series of revenge killings. One group, Phalangist renegades from the region of Damour, Naamah, and Saadiyat and belonging to what was called the "Damouri Brigade", went into the camps to extract revenge for the massacres of their families by the leftists in Damour. The other group, of predominantly Shi'ite Moslems from South Lebanon, consisted of followers of Imam Ali Badr al-Din. The Imam had opposed the PLO presence in South Lebanon, as well as leftist ideological pressure on his community. He disappeared one evening on his way to the local mosque, and later his body was found in nearby Dayr Zahrani. The PLO claimed that the Israelis had killed Imam Ali, but his supporters believed the PLO had ambushed him. The Imam's supporters swore to avenge him and they may have kept their word.
In support of this view it has to be noted that some of those that entered the camps had a southern Lebanese accent which several of the survivors report in the course of the ivestiagetion into the massacre. Survivors also stated that a few of the participants in the massacre had Moslem names.
Hints were also made about the participation of Major Haddad's men in the massacre also on the basis of some southern Lebanese accents which was heard although no evidence linking Haddad's men was found.
One cannot rule out the possibility that in the interim 24 hour period between the departure of the Hobeika's forces and the entry of the Lebanese army, other forces such as the so supposed "Damouri Brigade", or followers of Imam Ali Badr al-Din or even members of Haddad's forces entered the camps and committed illegal acts there. Any combination of these scenarios is possible.
Shortly after the massacre a startling discovery was made. The Lebanese Army units that had entered the camp discovered a large network tunnels and bunkers. During the 12 years of Arafat's control of the heavily populated camps of Sabra and Shatilla he used them for storage of massive amounts of explosives and weapons. With Swiss made tunnel borers he carved out miles of tunnels and loaded them with rockets, ammunition, explosives, missiles, bombs and more. They also found extensive documentation detailing plans for a full scale invasion of Israel. The PLO along with the surrounding Arab states would commit their full armed forces to a future invasion. Having this munitions dump prepared in advance would offer quick re-supply and a very short supply line. It took weeks and hundreds of trucks to empty the tunnels. The Isreali advance into Lebanon had put an end to any such plan.
At the end of the war an official Lebanese government report was released which breaks down the casualty figures from 1975 to 1990, this put the total number of dead in Sabra and Shatila massacre at 857 and the number of wounded at 1,124.
The Marines' stated mission was to establish an environment that permit would the Lebanese Army to carry out its responsibilities in the Beirut area. Tactically, the Marines were charged with occupying and securing positions along a line from the airport east to the Presidential Palace at Babda. The intent was to separate the IDF from the population of Beirut.
The key to the initial success of MNF II was its neutrality. The Lebanese government had assured AmbAssador Habib in writing that it had obtained commitments from various factions to refrain from hostilities against the Marines. The United States reputation among the Lebanese was enhanced when a Marine officer was obliged to draw his pistol to halt an Israeli advance, an event sensationalized in the news media. And, in the same month, Marines conducted emergency relief operations in the mountains after a midwinter blizzard.
At this juncture, the prevalent mood in Lebanon was one of cautious optimism and hope. The Lebanese Army was pressed into service to clear away the rubble of years of warfare. The government approved a US$600 million reconstruction plan. On October 1, President Gemayel declared Beirut reunited, as the army demolished barricades along the Green Line that had been standing since 1975. Hundreds of criminals and gang leaders were rounded up and arrested. In the first months of 1983, approximately 5,000 government troops were deployed throughout Greater Beirut. Most important, the government began to build a strong national army.
Lebanese optimism was bolstered by changing Israeli politics and policies. Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, the architect of Israel's war in Lebanon, had resigned in the wake of the Sabra and Shatila investigation, although he remained in the cabinet as a minister without portfolio. He was replaced by the former ambAssador to the United States, Moshe Arens. Although Arens was considered a hawk in the Israeli political spectrum, he was not committed to Sharon's ambitious goals and wanted the IDF to withdraw promptly from Lebanon, if only to avoid antagonizing the United States, with which he had cultivated a close relation. Accordingly, Israel withdrew its forces to the outskirts of the capital.
But the IDF had no clear tactical mission in Lebanon. Its continued presence was intended as a bargaining chip in negotiations for a Syrian withdrawal. While awaiting the political agreement, the IDF was forced to fight a different kind of war, which Israeli newspapers compared with the Vietnam War. The IDF had been turned into a static and defensive garrison force like the Syrians before them, caught in the cross fire between warring factions. When Phalangist forces tried to exploit the fluid situation by attacking the Druze militia in the Chouf Mountains in late 1983, the IDF had to intervene and separate the forces. In southern Lebanon, the IDF had to protect the many Palestinian refugees who had streamed back to the camps against attacks by Israel's proxy force, the SLA. In one of the bigger ironies of the war, the IDF recruited and armed Palestinian home guards to prevent a repetition of the massacres in Beirut.
Sadr, at first established this militia with the help of the PLO, but refused to engage Amal in the fighting during the first years of the war. This reluctance discredited the movement in the eyes of many Shias, who chose instead to support the PLO or other leftist parties. The 1979 Iranian Revolution galvanized Lebanon's Shiite community and inspired in it a new militancy. Iran sought to export Shiite revolution throughout the Middle East, and so it provided material support to Amal, and to a Shiite terrorist campaign. From 1979 until the 1982 Israeli invasion, Shiite terrorists hijacked six airliners, attempted to bomb several others, assassinated the French ambAssador to Lebanon, blew up the French and Iraqi embassies, and committed numerous other violent acts.
The Israeli invasion served as a catalyst for a further upsurge in Shia militancy. In July 1982 Iran dispatched an expeditionary force of volunteer Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon, ostensibly to fight Israeli invaders. The approximately 650 Pasdaran established their headquarters in the city of Baalbek in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in 1982 and icreased to some 2,000 over the next few years. There they conducted terrorist and guerrilla training, disbursed military matériel and money, and disseminated propaganda.
The political fission that characterized Lebanese politics also afflicted the Shia movement, as groups split off from Amal. Husayn al Musawi, a former Amal lieutenant, entered into an alliance with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stationed in Lebanon and established Islamic Amal. Other Shia groups included Hizballah (Party of God), Jundallah (Soldiers of God), the Husayn Suicide Commandos, the Dawah (Call) Party, and the notorious Islamic Jihad Organization, who many analysts say is the terror wing of Hizbollah, reportedly headed by Imad Mughniyah (Mugniyah).
Ten minutes after the explosion Islamic Jihad called AFP and claimed responsibility for the attack. The caller said, "The operation is part of the Iranian revolution's campaign against the imperialist presence throughout the world. We will continue to strike against the imperialist presence in Lebanon including the multi-national force."
In the investigation that was launched into the attack, the NSA, which had been breaking and reading coded messages from the Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran to the Iranian embassies in Beirut and damascus reviewed all the intercepts and scraps of intelligence available before the bombings. The intercepts showed that an operation was being planned against the Americans. One intercept showed that a $25,000 payment had been made for an operation. This information had been passes to the ambassador but there were no specifics, no target and no date. News of this was leaked to CBS who reported that Iranian communications were being intercepted by US intelligence. Immediately the Iranian communications stopped. The Americans had lost a valuable and vital source of information.
The Israeli withdrawal was made contingent upon concurrent Syrian withdrawal, however. The United States had decided not to seek Syrian participation in the negotiations for the May 17 Agreement for fear of becoming entangled in the overall Syrian Israeli imbroglio. Instead, the United States intended to seek Syrian endorsement after the agreement was signed. But Syria vehemently opposed the agreement, and because implementation hinged on Syrian withdrawal, Damascus could exert veto power. Although President Gemayel made conciliatory overtures to Damascus, he also notified the Arab League on June 4 that the ADF was no longer in existence.
Syria responded by announcing on July 23, 1983, the foundation of the National Salvation Front (NSF). This coalition comprised many sects, including the Druzes led by Walid Jumblatt; Shias led by Nabih Berri; Sunni Muslims led by Rashid Karami; Christian elements led by Sulayman Franjieh; and several smaller, Syrian-sponsored, left-wing political parties. These groups, together with Syria, controlled much more of Lebanon's territory than did the central government. Therefore, the NSF constituted a challenge not only to Gemayel but also to his patrons, the United States and Israel. To emphasize their opposition to the May 17 Agreement, Syrian and Druze forces in the mountains above the capital loosed a barrage of artillery fire on Christian areas of Beirut, underscoring the weakness of Gemayel's government.
By mid-1983 the mood of optimism that had flourished at the end of 1982 had disappeared. It became clear that the tentative alliance of Lebanon's rival factions was merely a function of their shared opposition to a common enemy, Israel. Terrorist activity resumed, and between June and August 1983, at least twenty car bombs exploded throughout Lebanon, killing over seventy people. Lebanon's prime minister narrowly escaped death in one explosion. Targets included a mosque in Tripoli; a television station, hospital, and luxury hotel in Beirut; and a market in Baalbek.
The May 17 Agreement had significant implications for the MNF. As a noncombatant interpositional force preventing the IDF from entering Beirut, the MNF had been perceived by the Muslims in West Beirut as a protector. As the Israeli withdrawal neared, however, the MNF came to be regarded as a protagonist in the unfinished War, propping up the Gemayel government. In August militiamen began to bombard United States Marines positions near Beirut International Airport with mortar and rocket fire as the Lebanese Army fought Druze and Shia forces in the southern suburbs of Beirut. On August 29, 1983, two Marines were killed and fourteen wounded, and in the ensuing months the Marines came under almost daily attack from artillery, mortar, rocket, and small-arms fire.
Arafat's Last Stand
As a result of their defeat at the hands of the Israelis, many Palestinians had become dissatisfied with Arafat's command, some within the PLO ranks wanted an investigation into the disastrous plans and command structure during the fighting. Syria was also concerned with Arafat's political gestures towards other Arab states and even the United States. Syria worried about being sidelined by a potential Jordanian-Arafat alliance and was not willing to entertain an independent PLO, especially one under the leadership of a man that they felt had let them down by not fighting the Israelis to the bitter end. Therefore in the first few months of 1983 the Syrians began to support those factions within the PLO that wanted to remove Arafat from power.
On May 9 1983, an order issued by Fateh's Colonel Sa'id Musa Muragha (Abu Musa) called upon all Fateh units in the Bekaa to disregard future orders from the Fateh leadership. At first, the Fateh Central Committee belittled the disobedience but later, when some 2,000 of the 10,000 guerrillas that had were in Lebanon joined the rebellion, it became apparent that the mutiny was gaining strength, it cut funds and logistical support to rebellious units. The rebels then seized Fateh supply depots in the Bekaa on May 25, and in Damascus on May 28. In late June, fighting erupted between loyalist and rebel units in the Bekaa, with the latter taking control of the town of Majdal Anjar and hence the Beirut-Damascus highway from Shtura to the frontier.
When the rebellion erupted, Syria and Libya tacitly, then openly, supported the rebels. When the Fateh leadership condemned this, Arafat himself was deported from Syria to Tunis on June 24, surviving an assassination attempt on his way. On June 27, the Syrians assassinated Saad Sayel, the commander of pro-Arafat forces in Lebanon. Pro-Syrian units of al-Sa'iqa, the PFLP-GC, PLA, and even Syrian Army units, backed Abu Musa's forces.
With the failure of Palestinian and Arab mediation efforts, loyal Fateh units were gradually forced out of their positions in the Bekaa northwards to the Nahr al-Barid and Baddawi refugee camps near Tripoli. By this stage just over 4,000 guerrillas remained loyal to Arafat. In late September Arafat himself returned to Tripoli to face his opponents. He sneaked in under the nose of the Syrians, shaving off his beard for the first time in years and wearing a smart suit and sunglasses. In October, fighting erupted around the two refugee camps. On November 3, the rebels backed by Syrian and even Libyan forces launched a major offensive against Arafat, capturing Nahr al-Barid on November 6. After a brief lull in the fighting, a second offensive captured Baddawi on November 16. Loyalist forces retreated to Tripoli. Syrian artillery that had been bombarding the camps and the civilian population of Tripoli now focused all of its efforts on destroying the city. Anti Arafat forces also bombarded Tripoli and threatened to storm the city.
The military pressures on Arafat were combined with intense Lebanese pressures to leave the city from Rashid Karami and Walid Jumblatt, as well as from the Lebanese right. Only local Sunni fundamentalist leader Said Shaaban and his Islamic Unification Movement militia supported the PLO leader. At the same time, Arab pressures on Syria to halt the attacks were also building from states anxious to prevent the PLO from completely falling under Syrian sway. As a result, Arafat, Syria and the rebels agreed to a Saudi mediated ceasefire agreement on November 25. Under its terms, 'Arafat would evacuate the city. It was not until December 20, however that the withdrawal took place. Some 4,000 Arafat loyalists evacuated the city by sea to North Yemen, Algeria and Tunisia in Greek ships under the UN flag and with a naval escort provided by France.
Sporadic fighting soon broke out between the Lebanese Forces and the Druze PSP who viewed the LF as intruders on their territory. East Beirut was also occasionally shelled. Amin Gemayel made plans to deploy the Lebanese army in the Shouf as a buffer between the LF and the PSP but Walid Jumblatt objected and accused the army of being agents of the Kataeb and so he prepared for warfare by aquiring war materials from the Syrians. The Israelis did nothing to stop this.
By the end of August the Druze had started attacking Christian villages in the Chouf. On September 3, 1983, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began to evacuate the Chouf Mountains region and within twenty-four hours had completed its redeployment to south of the Awwali River. The Lebanese Army was told of Israel's intention to withdraw that morning and so were not at hand to take over the IDF positions. Lebanese Forces troops realised at the last minute that a large scale Druze assault was about to take place and began evacuating Christian civilians to Dier Al Qamar. The Lebanese Forces, were completely caught by surprise and vastly out numbered. They decided to put up a defence at Bhamdoun, an elegant Christian mountain town of beautiful villas located where the Beirut-Damascus highway touches the edge of the Chouf Mountains. Simultaneously, the Lebanese Army sought to guard the town of Suq al Gharb and Khaldeh to prevent Druze forces from invading Beirut.
Palestinian guerrillas, Shia militia, Communist Party and SSNP gunmen and Druze militia, supported by Syrian artillery, tanks and plain clothes gunmen assaulted Bhamdoun. After several days of combat, Bhamdoun was captured by the morning of September 7, with the Lebanese Forces loosing over 150 men on the 6th, a very large number for the Lebanese Forces to lose in a single action. Some of those defending Bhamdoun fought a rear-guard action so as to allow enough time for their fellow Phalangists to retreated to the stronghold of Dier al Qamar to join the rest of the Christian population there. Some 200 civilians had remained at Bhamdoun believing that they would be unharmed, but they, along with captured Lebanese Forces troops were murdered, many by having their throats cut.
The Druzes surrounded and besieged Dier al Qamar, which held 40,000 Christian residents and refugees and 1,000 Lebanese Forces fighters. With the Chouf Mountains undefended, the Druzes went on a rampage reminiscent of the 1860 massacres. The first few weeks of September saw a rising number of massacres being committed against Christian civilians:
36 Christians had their throats cut in Bmarian
7 September 1983 200 people massacred in Bhamdoun
10 September 1983 64 slaughtered in Bireh, several victims were executed in the village church, some of them on the altar.
10 September 1983 30 in Ras el-Matn
11 September 1983 15 in Maasser Beit ed-Dine
11 September 1983 36 in Chartoun
12 September 1983 3 in Ain el-Hour
12 September 1983 12 in Bourjayne
12 September 1983 11 in Fawara
13 September 1983 84 in Maasser el-Chouf
On 11th September 1983 Walid Jumblatt announced his policy while making a speech in Damascus: "With the help of our Syrian allies we have removed the Christians and only the Druze villages will remain from now on. Such is our objective."
During the fighting the mixed Christian and Druze village of Kfar Matta whose Christian population had been expelled was attacked and briefly held by the LF. 58 Druze civilians were killed by the LF.
The Catholic Information Center in Beirut reported that 1,500 Christian civilians were killed and 62 Christian villages demolished. Bhamdoun was stripped of everything over the next few months and systematically demolished. The defeat of the Phalangists was expensive for the Christian community, which lost a large amount of territory.
The cost in political currency was even higher, however. Not only did the fighting deal a blow to Amin Gemayel's credibility and authority in his dual role as chief of state and leader of the Christian community, it destroyed the myth shared by many different Lebanese factions that the Lebanese War had been settled in 1976. Admittedly, Christians and Muslims had continued to fire on each other's neighborhoods on occasion, but this was perceived as part of Lebanon's environment, like the weather. In all the significant fighting between 1976 and 1982, the Syrians, Israelis, and Palestinians had been belligerents on either or both sides of the conflict. The Mountain War, as the 1983-84 fighting in the Chouf Mountains came to be called, dashed the hopes harbored by many that the withdrawal of foreign forces would end the War.
In Suq al Gharb and Khaldah, it was the Lebanese Army rather than the Lebanese Forces that confronted the Druze militias. On September 16, 1983, Druze forces massed on the threshold of Suq al Gharb. For the next three days the army's Eighth Brigade commanded by an officer called Michel Aoun (who would become in 1988 the Lebanese prime minister) fought desperately to retain control of the town. The tiny Lebanese Air Force was thrown into the fray, losing several aircraft to Druze missile fire. United States Navy warships shelled Druze positions and helped the Lebanese Army hold the town until a cease-fire was declared on September 25, on which day the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey arrived on the scene.
Although the Lebanese Army had beaten the Druze forces on the battlefield, approximately 900 Druze enlisted men and 60 officers defected from the army to join their coreligionists. The Lebanese Armed Forces chief of staff, General Nadim al Hakim, fled into Druze territory, but he would not admit he had actually defected.
The September 25th cease-fire briefly froze the situation. The Gemayel government maintained its jurisdiction in West Beirut, the Shi’i Amal movement had not yet involved itsefin the fighting, and Jumblatt was landlocked in the Shuf mountain. The Lebanese regime and opposition personalities agreed to meet in Geneva for a national reconciliation conference, under Saudi and Syrian auspices, to discuss political reform and the 17 May pact. For a while things looked a bit better.
For its part, the United States had clearly inherited Israel's role of shoring up the precarious Lebanese government. On September 29, 1983, the United States Congress, by a solid majority, adopted a resolution declaring the 1973 War Powers Resolution to apply to the situation in Lebanon and sanctioned the United States military presence for an eighteen-month period.
The Multinational Force Bombings and their Withdrawal
On Sunday morning 23 October at 06:22, just after dawn, Shi’i Islamic radicals shook the already-reduced resolve of the Americans and their MNF partners by simultaneous suicide bombings of the U.S. and French compounds in West Beirut.
In the Marine attack an explosives loaded 5 ton truck was driven at some 50 mph into the U.S. Marine compound killing 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members. A Lebanese man who also ran a small shop in the building was also killed. The large yellow Mercedes truck crashed into the ground floor lobby of the four-story concrete building where approximately 300 service members were quartered. Before crashing into the compound the truck circled a couple on times in the car park to gather speed.
The sofistication of the attck and the explosives used pointed directly to the involvement of intellignece agencies. The explosives were composite-shaped charges built to have a "directed-enhanced" blast so that their impact on the building above would be greater. The bomb consisted of 300 kilograms of Hexogen reinforced by PETN this is equivalent to abourt 12,000 pounds of TNT. The explosives were mixed into a complex of gas and other substances. The difficult and delicate task of gas-enhancement requires the sort of specialized skills and wealth of experience possessed by a state, not an outlaw organization. Further, the use of highly controlled explosive materials as Hexogen and PETN indicates the involvement of intelligence agencies.
Intelligence analysis showed that the actual preparations for the bombing began in September of 1983. Iran played a central role and operational coordination was conducted from the Iranian embassy in Damascus. Syria was responsible for the technical aspects of the attack as only they and their allies had the intelligence assets and the technical expertise to determine the requirements and design of the bomb. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) members were in charge of operational security. Intelligence also showed that the Iranian embassy in Damascus paid $50,000 to a financial emissary named Hassan Hamiz to cover associated costs. Futhermore it was shown that a Syrian intelligence lieutenant colonel was involved in the planning several days before and that Sheikh Mohammed Fadlalla attended a meeting in the Soviet-Palestinain freindship house in Damascus to discuss the attacks three days before the bombings.
After studying the U.S. compound, the Syrians decided to use a truck identical to the trucks delivering cargo to the Beirut airport. Those trucks passed routinely in front of the Marine barracks. The Mercedes truck used for the bombing was delivered to Beirut from an assembly plant in Syria or Iran, and the explosives used for the bomb were shipped from Bulgaria and delivered via Damascus.
The day became the Marine Corps' bloodiest since February of 1945, when Marines fought to secure Iwo Jima. October 23, 1983 surpasses even the Corps' bloodiest days of the Vietnam and Korean wars. The explosion was determined by FBI forensic investigators to be "the single largest non-nuclear explosion on earth." The Long Commission Report into the attack stated it was "the largest conventional blast ever seen by the explosive experts community." So massive was the blast, the Report states, it would have caused major damage and many casualties even if it had exploded on the open road 330 feet away from the building. Untill the September 11 2001 this had been the largest terrorist attck in the history of the United States.
The Department of Defense Statement read:
“At approximately 0622 on Sunday, 23 October 1983, the Battalion Landing Team headquarters building in the Marine Amphibious Unit compound at Beirut International Airport was destroyed by a terrorist bomb. The catastrophic attack took the lives of 241 Marines, sailors and soldiers and wounded more than 100 others. The bombing was carried out by one lone terrorist driving a yellow Mercedes Benz stake-bed truck that accelerated through the public parking lot south of the BLT headquarters building, where it exploded. The truck drove over the barbed and concertina wire obstacle, passed between two Marine guard posts without being engaged by fire, entered an open gate, passed around one sewer pipe barrier and between two others, flattened the Sergeant of the Guard's sandbagged booth at the building's entrance, penetrated the lobby of the building and detonated while the majority of the occupants slept. The force of the explosion [12,000 pounds] ripped the building from its foundation. The building then imploded upon itself. Almost all the occupants were crushed or trapped inside the wreckage.”Just 20 seconds after the Marine explosion another bomb was rammed into the French headquaters 2 miles from the Marine compound killing 58 French Paratroopers. The explosion at the French barracks blew the whole nine story building off its foundations and threw it about 20 feet westward, while breaking the windows of almost every apartment house in the neighborhood. This small bomb was driven at speed into the underground garage of the building. More than 20 Lebanese civilians were injured in the blast. A Lebanese family lived on the ground floor of the French-occupied structure. According to neighbors, the father who was the concierge had just gone out to buy bread when the blast ripped through the building, trapping his wife and three children inside, the youngest was 3 months old. Their bodies were recovered some 8 days later.
Although the MNF remained in Lebanon after the October 1983 suicide truck bombings, the situation of the United States and French contingents was precarious. As the security environment in Lebanon deteriorated, Britain, France, Italy, and the United States decided to withdraw their MNF contingents in February 1984.
The Switzerland Confrences
The attacks against the the Marine and French compounds seemed timed to coincide with the start of Lebanon's long-awaited national reconciliation conference but the conference went ahead. At the Geneva conference in early November Saudi influence achieved a limited consensus between the Maronite, Muslim, and Druze participants and it was agreed to delegated Gemayel to approach the Americans for revision of the 17 May pact, to make it a purely military arrangement.
On 13 November, at a critical time for Syria in dealing with both Arafat and Gemayel, Hafiz al-Asad suffered a heart attack, precipitating a leadership crisis in Damascus. The crisis lasted for almost six months, until the Syrian president fully recovered and could fend off his insubordinate brother, Rifa’at. In Beirut, Gemayel had a last chance to save his presidency, by taking advantage of the common ground between moderate reform proposals from West and East Beirut and the breathing space offered by the American naval build-up immediately after the bombing of the U.S. marine compound. The U.S. however rebuffed Gemayel's attempt to revise the 17 May pact, and after some hesitation the U.S. backed Israel’s insistence on ratification of the original documents. Gemayel failed to reconvene the Geneva conference for the necessary consultations on the matter. In the meantime, military exchanges punctuated the cease-fire: the Americans lost two aircraft in a raid on the well-prepared Syrians in the Upper Matn, and Walid Junblatt was impatient to extend his new Shuf canton to the sea.
Although the MNF remained in Lebanon after the October 1983 suicide truck bombings, the situation of the United States and French contingents was precarious. In early February 1984, Shia Amal militiamen clashed with the Lebanese Army in the southern suburbs of Beirut and after four days of heavy fighting gained control over Beirut International Airport, evicted the army from West Beirut, and reestablished the Green Line partitioning the capital. The decisive defeat of the army on two key fronts led to its gradual disintegration, as demoralized soldiers defected to join the opposition. United States Marines stationed near Beirut International Airport were surrounded by predominantly Shia militia groups. The day after the Lebanese Army was forced out of West Beirut and as the security environment in Lebanon deteriorated, Britain, France, Italy, and the United States decided to withdraw their MNF contingents.
The most significant feature of the February 1984 was that for the first time Shi’i organizations, with Amal in the lead and the Iranian-backed Islamists of Hizballah (“Party of God”) not far behind, imposed themselves on Lebanese politics. West Beirut came under local militia control, principally Nabih Berri’s Amal and Junblatt’s PSP, with the Sunnis and Palestinians subordinatede. This was a different situation from that of 1975-82 in West Beirut, although Syria made a major strategic advance courtesy of the Lebanese opposition parties, Amal understood the scale of their achievement. With West Beirut evacuated by both the MNF and the Lebanese army command, Syria acquired a leading influence in that part of the city.
Hafiz al-Asad decided that the best way to gain maximum capital out of the changes in Beirut was to bring the hapless Amin Gemayel to Damascus for a public submission. Abrogation of the Israel-Lebanon pact would be the token of submission but Asad’s real purpose was to use the Lebanese president to dominate the Maronite community, which would also increase Syria’s weight in dealings with West Beirut. Gemayel dithered for a few weeks while he made last-ditch appeals to the Americans and Israelis. However, the Americans were already looking afresh at Syria as a factor for stability in Lebanon and the Israelis answered only with a contemptuous dismissal. Syria tightened the screws by hinting at military action by “allies” against Zahleh, encircled by the Syrian army, and Gemayel’s home town of Bikfaya in the Upper Matn. On 29 February, Gemayel and an Lebanese delegation unofficially traveled to Damascus. In Damascus Gemayel agreed to a new inter-Lebanese conference, this time to be sponsored exclusively by Syria.
The withdrawal of the MNF left Syria as the dominant force in Lebanon, and Syria acted rapidly to consolidate its grip on Lebanese affairs. It pressured Gemayel to abrogate the May 17 Agreement, and he did so on March 5, 1984. This event led to the resignation of the Council of Ministers and its replacement by a new government of national unity headed by Rashid Karami. Under pressure from Syria Gemayel invited the miltia leaders to join the cabinet.
On March 6, 1984 was Amin's first official visit to Damascus. It was agreed that six days later, on March 12, 1984, the Lebanese traditional political leaders, both Christians and Muslims, as well as Druze and Shia militia commanders were to meet in Lausanne, Switzerland. All except the Lebanese Forces were to be represented. Walid Jumblat and Nabih Berri, self assured due to their Syrian backing believed for a moment they had it made and so Lebanon’s warlords assembled in Lausanne in late March to see if they could reach a compromise.
The conference got off to a bad start when Druze warlord Walid Jumblatt insisted on having the Lebanese flag in front of his seat removed and replaced with a Druze flag. This went quickly down hill from there. Jumblatt spent most of his time in his suit giving an interview to Playboy magazine. After nine days of fruitless talks interrupted only by banquets of smoked salmon and lobster bisque the conference collpased. Ironically, the conference finally collapsed because ex-president Frangieh, Asad's principal Christian ally rejected any erosion of the Maronite presidency. The Amal leadership, unhappy about the sectarian nature of the compromise, which benefited Sunnis rather than Shi’is, were grateful to Frangieh for sparing them a possible contretemps with Syria.
The Lebanese Forces were not ammused with the new Gemayel-Syria realtionship and Gemayel's gestures towards Syria. The election of Amin Gemayel to the presidency of Lebanon had far reaching consequences for the Lebanese Forces. Amin Gemayel had been a leading candidate in pro-Syrian Muslim eyes, although he was also supported by the Israelis. Bashir was elected President against the wishes of the Syrians and Muslims. Amin however often declared that Israel’s objective was to destroy Lebanon’s role in the region. He had always recommended pacification, compromise and dialogue with the Syrians.
The Commander of the Lebanese Forces, Fadi Frem, considered Amin’s election as President a serious setback in Bashir’s political line and he regarded Amin to be more open reaching some kind of agreement with the Syrians. However Frem was paralyzed by family ties and could little. Frem was married Fuad Abou Nader’s sister, who was Amin’s niece. Frem had been in the Lebanese Forces from the start, he was previously Chief of the Intelligence Service of the Lebanese Forces in 1978 and in 1981, he became Chief of Staff, a post he had handed over to Samir Geagea when he was promoted Commander by Bashir before his assassination in 1982. Frem was good freinds with Bashir and had always viewd Amin with suspicion.
Amin Gemayel was a shrewd politician and aware of the Lebanese Forces feelings towards him, and so Amin decided to try to set their minds at ease, and gain Christian support through them. Amin’s first move upon taking office on September 23, 1982, was to pay a visit to the Lebanese Forces War Council. At the meeting Amin pledged to the War Council that he would follow in Bashir’s footsteps. The meeting did not go well, suspicion prevailed and soon arguments erupted. Bashir’s wife, Solange had to intervene personally to contain the hot-heads at the meeting. The fears of the Lebanese Forces were being realized.
In Beirut, fostered and stimulated by popular support, and frustrated to be blatantly ignored, the Lebanese forces announced they were unconcerned with the discussions and results of the conference, for it only aimed at consolidating Syrian hegemony over Lebanon. They confirmed they were ready for war against the Syrian forces and their allies, whatever the price.
Military exchanges between the LF, hostile to Gemayel’s new relations with Syria, and Syria’s West Beirut allies continued until the end of April when Syrian maneuvers produced a “National Unity Government" under the veteran Tripoli politician Rashid Karami. In this way Syria’s allies were brought into the official apparatus and eight months of hostilities around Beirut finally gave way to an uneasy truce between the Christian and non-Christian sectors. Syria moved from playing spoiler against the Lebanese regime, the U.S., and Israel to the more difficult task of stabilizing its primacy. That the new government was “united” only in the sense that its members occasionally assembled at the same table limited its value for Syria.
Optimistic predictions that the Bikfaya Agreement would end Lebanon's chronic conflict were dashed as sporadic battles and terrorist attacks resumed. The accord was criticized vehemently by elements among the Maronites as Druze, Shia, and Sunni militia fought one another in West Beirut. Armed Shias stormed and burned the Saudi Arabian embassy on August 24. On the same day, the Lebanese National Resistance Front, an umbrella organization fighting Israel in southern Lebanon, fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the British embassy. The mounting tension in Lebanon was exacerbated by Israeli air raids against Palestinian guerrilla camps of the Abu Musa faction. The Bikfayya Agreement suffered another blow on August 23, when General al Hakim, the newly appointed Druze chief of staff of the Lebanese Armed Forces, died in an accidental helicopter crash. And, on August 30 Maronite patriarch and Phalange Party founder Pierre Gemayel died of a heart attack, setting the stage for a power struggle in the Christian community.
Syria, determined to implement the security plans it had sponsored, attempted to restore order. It curbed the activities of the Iranian Pasdaran and Hizballah in Baalbek in the Biqa Valley, and it quelled the fierce fighting in the northern port city of Tripoli between the pro-Syrian Arab Democratic Party and the Sunni fundamentalist Tawhid (Islamic Unification Movement).
The Bombing of the US Embassy Annex
In September 1984, William Casey, head of the CIA, was spending lots of time at Langley raising consciousness about a possible terrorist attack in the closing weeks of the US presidential campaign. He made it clear that the entire U.S. intelligence community was on terrorist alert. He dreaded that a strike again by suicide bombers would show the impotence of the United States. The political repercussions could be substantial. Reagan’s presidency stood for strength. Nothing in the last years had demonstrated weakness more than an inability to stop these attacks.
For seventeen months Casey had been throwing assets at the problem, training, information exchange, the development of a network involving some one hundred countries. There had been significant upgrading in forty countries of CIA capabilities in paramilitary training, hostage rescue and VIP protection. The CIA had just trained sixty Lebanese agents. Nearly fifty people at CIA headquarters worked exclusively on terrorism, as well as dozens more at the NSA and in the military intelligence services. Casey demanded results, and there had been some success. Intelligence had determined that Spain’s ambassador to Lebanon was being tracked, and the CIA had suggested he leave Lebanon. He did not and was later kidnapped.
Some of the most concrete intelligence that was coming in classified reports showed that explosives and timed fuse bombs were being moved by Iranians operating out of their embassy in Damascus under the protection of diplomatic immunity. In August, reports had shown that explosives had been moved into Lebanon, where the trail was lost. With the Marines gone, the U.S. ambassador’s residence and the American Embassy annex in the relative security of Christian East Beirut were the remaining major targets. The CIA and other intelligence agencies cranked out reports but not much exactness to the warnings.
At 11:40 A.M. Thursday, September 20, in a replay of the April 1983 attack, a van with diplomatic license plates pulled into the U.S. Embassy annex in East Beirut, zigzagging and threading its way around the staggered row of concrete dragon’s teeth designed to slow all vehicles. One guard’s M16 jammed. The security guard for the British ambassador, who was visiting the embassy, opened fire, pumping five shots into the van, he hit the driver and the van headed into a parked vehicle some thirty feet short of the ramp leading to the garage underneath the embassy. The van detonated, leaving a crater twenty-six feet in diameter. At least twenty-four people were killed, including two American servicemen. Another ninety were wounded, including U.S. Ambassador Reginald Bartholomew, who was buried in the rubble but emerged with only minor injuries.
Overhead photography later showed that the van, or one just like it, had been practicing outside a mock-up of the embassy annex in the Bekaa Valley. American intelligence concluded that Hizbollah and Sheikh Fadlallah were behind this attack, just as they had been behind the 1983 bombings at the embassy and the Marine barracks. The attack could not have occured without Syrian knowledg and assistance.
Lebanese Forces Coup
For sometime friction had been mounting between the Lebanese Forces and Amin Gemayel. Not willing to tolerate a Lebanese forces which was hostile to him Amin had to remove Fadi Frem and so throughout 1984 he used his base in the Phalange to undermine Frem with a view to replacing him as soon as Frem's mandate as head of the LF expired. In November 1984 Fuad Abou Nader, a member of the Phalange party, was elected as head of teh Lebanese Forces. Nader was a 28-year-old medical doctor and Amin’s nephew. He was appreciated and respected by the troops for his courage on battlefields and had distinguished himself on various fronts. He had been Chief of Operations and Chief of Staff from 1982 to 1984. Amin, hoped he could influence Fuad Abou Nader and as a result control the Lebanese Forces.
Soon Amin began to press the Lebanese Forces to disarm and to hand over the Port of Beirut. This port was a massive source of revenue for the LF. Amin also asked them to hand over the LF pension fund and all the assets they managed. The clincher was the dismantling of the Barbara checkpoint, another huge soucre of income for the LF. This checkpoint was held by Samir Geagea. After weeks of prodding, the Lebanese Forces agreed to truck their men and weapons out of East Beirut, into the mountains, but they adamantly refused to comply with the other demands. Trouble was brewing and tension mounted to breaking point in early 1985 when the Kataeb leadership visited Damascus in February.
Geagea's militiamen continued to refuse the government's repeated requests to dismantle the checkpoint and toll station and so the commander of the Lebanese Forces, Fuad Abu Nader, finnaly removed Geagea from his post on March 11th 1985. Geagea's ouster, supported by Syria, quickly stirred dissension within the Lebanese Forces. For the Lebanese Forces this was the last straw but Abu Nader tried to end the rift by announcing that in the future the Lebanese Forces would function independently of the Phalange Party, but his move came too late. The next day, on March 12th, the Lebanese Forces reacted.
At dawn, a military force led by Samir Geagea moved forward from Byblos and rolled down the coastal line to Nahr el Kalb Tunnel, hatch to Beirut and barely a few kilometers from the outskirts of the Northern Matn. Northern Matn was under the control of Amin Gemayel’s Force 75. On his way, Geagea took over all of the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces’ barracks, posts and checkpoints formerly held by Fuad Abu Nader’s men. At the same time, Hobeika and his forces stormed the Baabda district and Ashrafieh. The coup was bloodless without resistance and without human nor material losses. The only serious opposition came at Nahr Ibrahim late in the night of the 12th. A post held by Joseph el Zayek, Elias’s brother, fought a battle despite the odds against him. He was a fervent and loyal supporter of the Kataeb Party. Fuad Abu Nader maintained control of his own birth place, Ghazir in Kessrouan but agreed to step down peacefully. Syria massed troops around the Christian heartland north of Beirut, but agreed to give Gemayel time to neutralize the revolt before resorting to armed intervention but as the LF did not directly threaten Gemayel's rule or attempt to tople him, the Syrians decided not to interfere.
With the stunning success of the coup, the Lebanese Forces laid their hands on and secured the Kataeb Party’s properties, real estate, businesses and media. Radio Voice of Lebanon and Al Amal newspapers both organs of the Kataeb Party were seized. The radio station, situated in Sassine in Ashrafieh, fell without any resistance. From this point the Phalange Party became solely a political party and had lost its influence and control on the Lebanese Forces. Amin Gemayel's authority was greatly undermined. Samir Geagea became the new head of the Lebanese Forces.
Such developments were viewed with concern by Syrian who did not want to threaten the Israelis with a reestablishment of a semi-autonomous Palestinian base of operations in Beirut and the south, particularly one loyal to the PLO. At first it encouraged its own Palestinian clients to compete in the process, facilitating the entrance of Sa'iqa, PFLP-GC, and Abu Musa's Fateh-Provisional Command into these areas. In camps under direct Syrian control, Nahr al-Barid and Baddawi in the north, and Wavell in the Bekaa, these groups quickly gained the upper hand. But in areas beyond Syria's writ it soon became apparent that the independent Palestinian organizations Fateh, the PFLP and DFLP had far stronger popular support.
Amal also viewed the reestablishment of a Palestinian political and military presence in Beirut and the south with concern. Hostility towards the Palestinians stemming from Shi'ite-PLO conflict in the late 1970s and early 1980s was reinforced by fears that a resurgent Palestinian presence would threaten the powerful political position that Amal had established for itself in post-1982 Lebanon. When Amal and the PSP seized control of West Beirut in February 1984, Amal established military posts in and around the camps. As the IDF withdrew, it did the same in Tyre and Nabatiyya in the south.
Just as relative calm was restored to Christian East Beirut, fighting broke out again in West Beirut. Under Syria's aegis, Amal attempted to consolidate its control over West Beirut. Amal struck first in an April 15 with a joint PSP assault that routed the once-formidable Sunni Murabitun militia of the Independent Nasserite Movement in a matter of days and sent its leader, Ibrahim Kulaylat, into exile. The Murabitun was one of few groups in Lebanon to still support a Palestinian armed presence. Shortly thereafter, encouraged by Syria, Amal turned its attention to the Palestinians in the camps of Sabra, Shatila, and Burj al Barajineh. The first round of what was to become known as the "war of the camps" began 19 May 1985, with an incident between Palestinians in the Sabra camp and Amal militiamen.
Heavy fighting quickly erupted between the approximately one thousand armed Palestinians in the Sabra, Shatila and Burj al-Barajineh camps and Amal's more than three thousand fighters, the latter supported by over a thousand soldiers of the predominately Sh'ite Sixth Brigade of the Lebanese Army and even some units of the predominately Christian Eighth Brigade stationed in East Beirut. Syria labeled the fighting an "Israeli-US plot being implemented by Yasser Arafat" declaring that "Lebanese nationalists have the right to refuse to allow Arafat and others to restore the anomalous state of affairs that previously existed."
On May 30 1985, much of Sabra fell to its attackers. Amid Arab and Soviet political pressures on Syria and an emergency meeting of Arab League foreign ministers scheduled to discuss the issue June 8, Amal declared a unilateral ceasefire the next day.
Despite this, small-scale fighting continued for weeks. In Shatila, Palestinian defenders retained control of a small area around the camp's mosque, despite repeated efforts to dislodge them. Burj al-Barajina was not penetrated at all, but nevertheless remained under siege as Amal prevented supplies from entering or its population from leaving. Finally, after fighting that had claimed more than six hundred dead and two thousand wounded, a ceasefire agreement was signed by Amal and representatives of the Palestine National Salvation Front in Damascus on June 17.
Yet the tensions which had sparked the camps war had not been resolved, and they would soon be manifest elsewhere. In Sidon, Palestinian and particularly Fateh, reorganization attracted stern warnings from Amal, the local Popular Nasirite Organization, and influential Sidon Deputy Dr. Nazih Bizri. Clashes between Amal and Palestinians in the camps erupted again in Beirut briefly in September, and once more for a week from 29 March 1986. Then, on 19 May 1986, one year to the day after the first round of the camps war, a second round began. Once again Amal was unable to penetrate the camps, despite a supply of T-54 tanks provided it by Damascus after the previous fighting. After the failure of more than a dozen ceasefires, the fighting finally died down with the deployment of Lebanese Army units and Syrian military observers around the Beirut camps June 24 1986.
This set the stage for the third and most severe round of the camps war. It began with an incident September 29 at the Rashidiyya refugee camp on the outskirts of Tyre in which Palestinians allegedly fired on an Amal patrol. Amal immediately surrounded the camp, demanding the surrender of all arms inside it. The demand was refused. By late October, the fighting had spread to Sidon and Beirut. In an effort to relieve pressure on Rashidiyya, Palestinian forces in Sidon broke through Amal lines November 24 to seize the strategic hilltop village of Maghdusha, overlooking the coastal highway south of the city. As Amal's military weaknesses became evident, Syrian special forces reportedly aided it in the battle for Shatila. In Sidon, Israel launched multiple air-strikes against Palestinian positions around the city.
As before, the clashes led to an emergency session of Arab League foreign ministers, and diplomatic intervention to halt the fighting. Iranian mediation secured a partially effective ceasefire between Amal and the Palestinian National Salvation Front (PNSF) on December 15 1986. But while pro-Syrian groups withdrew from around Maghdusha, Fateh who was excluded from the negotiations refused. It insisted that it would not turn over its positions around Maghdusha without a ceasefire in Beirut, guarantees of security in the Sidon area, and the lifting of Amal's siege around the Tyre refugee camps.
Some of these positions were subsequently vacated to Hizballah and Popular Nasirite Organization militiamen in January, and some supplies allowed into the beleaguered camps. But for the most part the sieges continued, and new fighting soon erupted. In Beirut, the shelling of the camps was compounded by a blockade of food and medical supplies that resulted in sickness, starvation or death for thousands of trapped residents.
Finally, on February 21, 1987, the first of seven thousand Syrian troops were deployed in West Beirut. On April 7, following an agreement with the PNSF, Amal lifted the siege as Syrian forces took up positions around the camps. That same month, negotiations between Amal and the PNSF took place with the aim of achieving a ceasefire in the south.
Throughout the two years of fighting, the Palestinians, with indirect support from the Druzes, put up stiff resistance against the Amal attacks, and so Amal was weakened. Although many Palestinians were killed in the battles and about 25,000 took refuge in Druze controlled areas, the Palestinians managed to retain control of the camps. At the end of the war an official Lebanese government report was released which breaks down the casualty figures from 1975 to 1990. The total number of causalties was put at 3,781 dead and 6,787 wounded in the fighting between Amal and the Palestinians. Futhermore the number of Palestinians killed in internal power struggles in the camps was around 2,000.
These hopes, however, were never realized. The Shias, in fact, turned out to be implacable foes, vehemently resisting the Israeli presence in southern Lebanon. Concerned about the growing number of casualties inflicted on the IDF by Shia militants, on February 16, 1985, the IDF implemented the first stage of a withdrawal from Lebanon, evacuating its troops from the northern front at the Awali River to south of the Litani River, thus removing Sidon from Israeli control. Sidon's feuding factions, determined to avoid a flare-up of internecine violence in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal, formed a special committee to organize the smooth entry of Lebanese Army troops into the city. On February 17, a 3,000-man detachment of the army's predominantly Shia Twelfth Brigade took over the Israeli positions as the populace celebrated in the streets.
Yet Israel's withdrawal gave it no respite from guerrilla attacks. On the contrary, the guerrilla campaign escalated into full-scale warfare, with most of the attacks occurring in the vicinity of Tyre. Frustrated by its inability to curb the resistance fighters, Israel resorted to what it called the "Iron Fist" policy, which entailed retaliatory and preemptive raids on villages suspected of harboring Shia guerrillas. On March 4 1985, an explosion devastated a mosque in the village of Marakah--only hours after the IDF had inspected the site--killing at least twelve people, many of whom were Shia guerrilla commanders. On March 11 1985, a large Israeli armored force wreaked vengeance on the village of Az Zrariyah, killing 40 people and detaining 200 men.
The IDF hastened its withdrawal from southern Lebanon, adhering to an accelerated deadline voted by the Israeli cabinet, and pulled its troops back to a 9 mile deep security zone along the Lebanesei-Israeli border. Israel also closed its detention center in Ansar and freed 752 of the inmates. But, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids transporting prisoners of war across international boundaries, 1,200 prisoners were transferred to Israel. Israel preserved a security zone approximately five to ten kilometers wide, which it handed over to the SLA. Some 150 Israeli combat troops and 500 advisers remained within the security zone.
The Christian villages east of Sidon began to fall on April 26 to a Leftist pan Arab and Palestinian forces, soon after several hundred Lebanese Forces troops pulled out of the heights above Sidon. Less than 48 hours later, Palestinians along with Muslim militiamen stormed up the hills and captured several Christian villages. Tens of Christian villages in the Iqlim El Kharroub and East of Saïda were looted, vandalized, and burned. The State was more powerless than ever, the Lebanese Army being unable to stop the massacres of Christian civilians. A few days later, Druze militiamen struck at other Christian villages in the region just north of Sidon and the Awali River. The operation was necessary according to Walid Jumblatt, to ''cleanse the area of the Lebanese Forces.'' The Druze, however, have long sought to control the territory north of Sidon in order to give them access to the sea. United Nations refugee officials estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 Christians were made homeless by the fighting. It was the Christians' worst setback since the Chouf Mountain war in 1983.
On May 2 the Lebanese living overseas occupied the Lebanese embassies and consulates in the West, in order to attract the attention of the public opinion to the fate of those living in South Lebanon.
Throughout the first two weeks of May, as militiamen from at least three different factions took over the region, residents of West Beirut and Sidon drove into the Christian villages to join in the looting. They loaded their cars and pickup trucks with furniture and clothing, raided vegetable gardens and stripped an entire banana plantation before returning home. Some shawled women were seen squatted in doorways, laying claim to the possessions inside and, in some cases, even the house itself. Most of the Christians had fled inland to the stronghold of Jezzine where they were protected by Lahad's SLA while others fled south to the Israeli security zone and took refuge in the region of Marjeyoun before the advancing militias swept into their villages. The civilains that stayed behind were murdered. It cannot be known for certain how many hundreds of civilains were slaughtered.
This defeat was a very serious blow to the Lebanese Forces and particularly to Geagea who had only recently taken over command. With Geagea disgraced, Elie Hobeika, head of LF intellignece division, called for a meeting of the Lebanese Forces Politbureau and forced Geagea to step down. Hobeika was elected the new head of the LF on May 9th 1985, Geagea became Chief of Staff. Almost as soon as Hobeika took over the LF he started singing the praises of Syria and he even visited Syria on 9th September. Many in the LF started to smell a rat, they felt something had gone terribly wrong and began to look at Hobeika with suspicion.
Gemayel refused to endorse the agreement, however, and solicited the support of the Lebanese Forces Chief of Staff Samir Geagea, who had been demoted only eight months earlier for his anti-Syrian, Christian supremacist stance. Fierce fighting raged within the Christian camp between partisans of Hobeika and Geagea. Hobeika was defeated and it then transpired that Hobeika had been collaborating with the Syrians for some time. On January 16 1986, Hobeika fled to Paris, and then to exile in Damascus. Hobeika's defeat was a major blow to Syrian prestige, and Syria retaliated by urging the militias it controlled to attack Christian areas. The Presidential Palace and Gemayel's home town of Bikfayya were shelled, and a series of car bombs were detonated in East Beirut. But the Christians closed ranks around their beleaguered president, and the Tripartite Accord was never implemented. Geagea, emboldened by his restored power, then challenged Gemayel and the Phalange Party directly. In July he announced the creation of the Free Lebanon Army, which was to be under his sole command and was to serve as his personal power base. But LF loyalists fought this plan.
Syria acted decisively to stop the chaos in West Beirut, and it seized the opportunity to reimpose its hegemony over the areas in Lebanon from which it had been evicted by Israel in 1982. On February 22, 1987, it dispatched 7,500 troops, configured in two brigades and a battalion, from eastern Lebanon. The Syrian troops, most of whom were veteran commandos, closed down some seventy militia offices, rounded up and arrested militia leaders, confiscated arms caches, deployed troops along the major roads and at Beirut International Airport, established checkpoints, and sent squads on patrol in the streets.
The Syrian Army did not shy away from violence in its effort to restore order to the Lebanese capital. In the first two days of its police operation, Syrian troops shot some fifteen Lebanese of various militias. Then on February 24 a dozen trucks full of Syrian commandos entered the Basta neighborhood, a Shia stronghold, and attacked the Fathallah barracks, the headquarters of the Hizballah organization. There, Syrian troops killed eighteen Hizballah militants.
In mid-April the Syrian Army deployed troops south of Beirut. Approximately 100 Syrian commandos, fighting alongside soldiers of the Lebanese Army's Sixth Brigade, occupied key positions along the strategic coastal highway linking Beirut with southern Lebanon and took control of the bridge over the Awwali River, near Sidon.
By mid-1987 the Syrian Army appeared to have settled into Beirut for a protracted stay. Lebanon's anarchy was regarded by Syrian officials as an unacceptable risk to Syrian security. The government of Syria appeared prepared to occupy Beirut permanently, if necessary. The senior Syrian military commander in Lebanon, Brigadier General Ghazi Kanaan, said that militia rule of Lebanon had ended and that the Syrian intervention was "open-ended," implying that Syria would occupy West Beirut indefinitely. Meanwhile Syrian officials indicated that thousands of additional Syrian troops would probably be sent to Beirut to ensure stability. Kanaan declared that Syria would take full responsibility for the security of foreign embassies in West Beirut, and he invited foreign missions to return. Kanaan also promised that Syria would expend all possible efforts to secure the release of Western hostages held by Lebanese terrorists.
The Attack on Ashrafieh
On September 27 1986, a 3,000-man force loyal to Hobeika launched a
surprise attack across the Green Line from Muslim West Beirut against
Beirut. The night before a small group of Hobeika's men had taken the
by surprise at Sodeco and captured the crossing point across the Green
Line. Hobeika's men, supported by Syria and their leftist allies,
and forced back Geagea's militiamen and managed to get as far as
Square. The LF counter attacked and things started to go badly for
At 10:30 am the Lebanese Air Force flew over Ashrafieh and the Lebanese
Army's Tenth Brigade entered the fray on the side of Geagea's LF. By
the invasion of East Beirut was halted and the Syrians urged Hobeika's
men to hold out for a few hours to enable a Syrian army battalion to
to their rescue, however a retreat was already underway. The Lebanese
had by then deployed commandos throughout Ashrafieh and closed off the
escape roots. Less than half of Hobeika's men made it back to West
the majority were captured. Hobeika took refuge in Zahle under Syrian
General Michel Aoun
As the end of President Gemayel's term of office neared, the different Lebanese factions could not agree on a successor and compromise candidates were rejected by the Syrians. Consequently, when his term expired Gemayel appointed in the first minutes of September 23, 1988, Army Commander General Michel Aoun as interim Prime Minister, until new elections could be held. Salim al-Hoss with Syrian backing objected to this and continued to act as de facto Prime Minister based in West Beirut saying that he was the prime minister.There can be no doubt about the constitutionality of the Aoun government. Article 53 of the Lebanese constitution states that the president appoints the ministers, 'one of whom he chooses as prime minister'. The current premier does not have to resign; the president can dismiss him and appoint a new prime minister. Moreover, the Aoun government kept the rules of the National Pact. If the presidency is vacant, the cabinet is the sole executive . . . There was a precedent for this: in 1952, President Beshara al-Khoury appointed the commander of the army, Fouad Chehab, who was a Maronite, Prime Minister of an interim government until elections could be held.
From the Syrian point of view Aoun had made a huge and worrying
relations advance in Syrian occupied areas as pro Syrian politicians
Aoun's assault on the LF and moved for similar measures in their
Syria became enraged when on 24 february 1989 Aoun ordered the closure
of all illegal ports to compel shipping to use the Port of Beirut and
the Syrian controlled militias refused to comply with Aoun's orders. On
March 6 Aoun activated the army's 'Marine Operations Room' and started
a blockade of West Beirut militia ports. The attempt by Aoun to close
militia ports in Syrian controlled and mainly Muslim parts of the
resulted in the shelling of East Beirut by pro-Syrian militias and the
On March 14, 1989 Syrian heavy artillery, specifically the 52nd
brigade controlled by the Syrian special Forces, equipped with Soviet
240mm self propelled mortars (2s4, SM240) and 160mm towed breech
loading mortars (MT13), positioned in the hills of Aramoun over looking
Beirut, pounded both the East and the West side of city, especially
targeting the Unesco area in West Beirut in an attempt to stir up
secterian feelings. Tens of Lebanese were killed in the onslaught.
Following these attacks Syrian allies in Lebanon accused the Lebanese
army and Aoun of carrying out the Unesco attack and Syrian forces using
various heavy weapons and armour surrounded the areas controlled by the
General Aoun's constitutional regime. At the Unesco site unexploded
240mm and 160mm shells were found. The Lebanese army however has never
had 240mm aand 160mm artillery in its arsenal.
The Assassination of Sheikh Hassan Khaled
Two moths after the Unesco massacre on May 9, 1989 Sunni Mufti of the republic, Sheikh Hassan Khaled notified the Kuwaiti ambassador and on May 14 publically stated that the Syrian artillery is responsible for shelling both the Christian and the Moslem sides of the city, and that the Syrians, from their positions in Aramoun, are responsible for the massacres at Unesco. On May 16, 1989, a 300-pound car bomb was detonated next to Khaled's car as he drove through Beirut. Khaled died, as did 21 others with 76 injured. As a grand mufti, he presided over Islamic courts in Lebanon for 23 years, and served as part of the Islamic Coalition, a body which included past government members of Lebanon. He was considered a moderate. Headlines from An-Nahar newspaper following the attack showed that General Aoun agreed with then-Prime Minister Salim Hoss to form an investigation committee to identify the perpetrators of the attack. The Syrian Intelligence Services however, a few days later, pressured Hoss to drop the investigation. When Aoun publically asked why Hoss later backed down from his call for the committee Hoss woud not reply.
The War of Liberation
After three weeks of shelling of Beirut by the Syrian Army and their allies General Aoun had no choice but to declare a 'War of Liberation' on 14th March 1989 against the Syrian Army in Lebanon. This led to a 7 month period of shelling of East Beirut by Muslim pro-Syrian militias and by Syrian forces and the shelling of Syrian positions in West Beirut and the Chouf by the Lebanese Army with some support from the LF. Aoun answered Syrian shelling of East Beirut with unprecedented targeting of Syrian military installations across Lebanon from Beirut to the central Bekaa with the Syrians taking heavy casualities. The shelling during the war of Liberation was very heavy and caused nearly 1,000 deaths, several thousand injuries, and further destruction to Lebanon's economic infrastructure, the Syrian forces also imposed a land and sea blockade. Shipping entering ports under Lebanese Army control was fired upon by Syrian artillery based in West Beirut and the Koura.
Events in July impelled both Aoun and the Syrians toward military escalation. Aoun wanted to break the maritime constriction of East Beirut, which now threatened his political viability, and Syria felt pressed by financial costs and rising international concern. In early July reports of a large Iraqi consignment to Aoun, including Frog-7 surface-to-surface missiles which could be used against the Syrian capital, led Syria to impose a gunboat blockade on Jounieh. Using Tripoli as a base, up to six gunboats at any one time cruised 10—15 kilometres offshore, shelling and arresting incoming vessels. By late July the civilian population of East Beirut faced strangulation, raising doubts in Baabda for the first time as to whether Aoun could continue. At this point LF chief Samir Geagea finally agreed with the army to co-ordinate artillery fire to help ships enter, and Aoun, who had shown relative restraint since May, energetically pursued escalation, including commando raids against Syrian army positions, to force immediate internationalization of the war.
Numerous attempts to defeat Aoun through repeated pro Syrian militia assaults on the Lebanese Army defending strategic town of Souq el-Gharb failed and so it was decided that a larger scale Syrian attack was required. The morning of 10th August 1989 saw extremely heavy bombardment of Souq el-Gharb which was to last for until the morning of 13th August 1989, when units of the Syrian Army, Syrian Special Forces troops, Jumblatt's PSP militia, Palestinians guerrillas, and Communist Party troops launched a general assault on the town. Despite the attackers breaching the perimeter early in the battle, and Lebanese army counter attack dislodged the Syrians and their allies. During the battle Walid Jumblatt announced that Souq el-Gharb had been 'liberated from the occupation of the Lebanese Army' and called for a press conference to be held at Souq el-Gharb. Upon their arrival, the international press was surprised to see that the Lebanese Army in Souq el-Gharb had won a decisive victory in the face of overwhelming odds.
Casablanca Arab summit
Some months earlier, in January 1989, the Arab League had appointed a six-member committee on Lebanon, led by the Kuwaiti foreign minister. At the Casablanca Arab summit in May, the Arab League empowered a higher committee on Lebanon - composed of Saudi King Fahd, Algerian President Bendjedid, and Moroccan King Hassan - to work toward a solution in Lebanon.
The Casablanca committee issued a report in July 1989, stating that its efforts had reached a "dead end" and blamed Syrian intransigence for the blockage. After further discussions, the committee arranged for a seven-point cease-fire in September, bringing an end to the War of Liberation, followed by a meeting of Lebanese parliamentarians in Taif, Saudi Arabia.
The Taif Accords
After a month of intense discussions, in October 1989, the deputies informally agreed on a charter of national reconciliation, also known as the Taif agreement.
Muslim MP Nazim Qadri was assassinated two days before the Ta'if conference convened after making public statements calling for a Syrian withdrawal. During the Ta'if negotiations, a Sunni MP from Tripoli, Abdel Majid al-Rafei, told reporters that "the presence of Syrian troops on Lebanese territory is a contravention of the Arab league charter" and that "since 1976, the Syrian regime has not only interfered in Lebanon, but also massacred and destroyed cities." Within 24 hours, Syrian forces had arrested around 200 of his followers in and around Tripoli.
The Syrians were not willing to tolerate any resistance to their occupation. Some months earlier, in May 1989, the Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Sunni community, Hassan Khalid, who had expressed his support for Aoun was assassinated just days after meeting with officials from Aoun's administration.
The deputies returned to Lebanon in November, where they approved the Taif agreement on November 4, and elected Rene Moawad, a Maronite Christian deputy from Zghorta in north Lebanon, President on November 5. General Aoun, claiming powers as interim Prime Minister, issued a decree in early November dissolving the parliament and did not accept the ratification of the Taif agreement or the election of President Moawad.
General Aoun's main objection to it was that Syria had committed itself neither to rapid nor complete withdrawal. To the contrary, he complained, Syrian forces were to stay in place for a full two years, ostensibly "assisting the Lebanese government extend its authority." After that, Syrian forces were to be redeployed only as far as the Beqaa valley. The Agreement gave no timetable for any further Syrian withdrawal, merely stipulating that "such withdrawals would be negotiated at the appropriate time by the governments of Lebanon and Syria." Furthermore, General Aoun charged that the political reforms were unacceptable because they simply shifted power from the office of the President to that of the Prime Minister without solving any fundamental political problems.
Fearing a Syrian assault, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese flocked to the presidential palace in late December 1989 to form a "human shield" around the compound after Syrian military forces surrounding the free enclave began massing for an imminent invasion. The presence of thousands of Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim Lebanese at these demonstrations illustrated the multi-confessional appeal of Lebanon's first popular nationalist movement. Sunni religious leaders in West Beirut sent a "Muslim Solidarity Delegation," led by Sheikh Hassan Najar, who gave numerous rousing speeches during the demonstrations.
The Assassination of Rene Moawad
As the days passed Moawad was becoming embarrassed with heavy handed Syrian desires to push through the accords and Syrian press even went so far as to invent aggressive anti Aoun interviews which Moawad felt obliged to disclaim. As Moawad found himself to be unable to win over army officers and men who all remained loyal to Aoun, Moawad refused to replace General Aoun with a new armed forces commander, preferring negotiation to confrontation and he would not allow the Syrians to dislodge Aoun militarily. President Moawad was assassinated on November 22, 1989, by a bomb that exploded as his motorcade was returning from Lebanese independence day ceremonies. 550lb (250kg) of remote controlled explosives destroyed the president's Mercedes in the heart of Syrian held west Beirut. The enormous amount of explosives used, were placed over a period of some days, inside a sweet shop on the road along which the car would pass. The explosives were detonated as the car passed the shop and it has been suggested that the device used also triggered a secondary bomb hidden inside the car. The occupants were vaporized, the rear section of the vehicle was tossed onto the roof of a local building with the front half being thrown 200 yards away into a parking lot. No investigation was carried out into the murder.
The parliament met on November 24 in the Beqaa Valley and elected Elias Hrawi, a Maronite Christian deputy from Zahleh in the Beqaa Valley, to replace him. The results of the election were broadcast on Syrian radio ten minutes before the vote actually took place. President Hrawi named a Prime Minister, Salim al-Huss, and a cabinet on November 25. Despite widespread international recognition of Hrawi and his government, General Aoun refused to recognize Hrawi's legitimacy, and Hrawi officially replaced Aoun as army commander in early December. The vast majority of the Lebanese Army, however, again remained loyal to General Aoun.
The Begining of the End, The War of Elimination
General Aoun's attempt to break the power of the militias and his standing up to the Syrians made him extremely popular with a cross section of the Lebanese population, this was manifested by large demonstrations in his support around the Presidential Palace. Samir Geagea and the LF were now rapidly loosing prestige and control of the Christian enclave. Geagea was becoming seduced by the Taif agreement which could open the way for him to receive a high government posting should he side with Hrawi and the Syrians. The LF hoped that siding with the Taif agreement would give the militia international respectability and that once Hrawi was bought into power the LF could detach him from Syria and use him as a cover to restore its domination of the enclave. The LF, in January 1990, made no secret of its option of linkage with Hrawi “if things don't work out with the general” or its derision for the “circus” of pro-Aoun demonstrations. Syria, which was well aware of the LF scheme, encouraged Hrawi to entice the militia.
Also in January 1990, rumours surfaced in East Beirut about alleged LF contacts with American officials and Syrian officers regarding an LF ditching of Aoun. Whether these reflected reality or disinformation, they certainly raised tensions. The daily al-Safir later quoted a reference by Christian deputies to “the capitals that were behind encouraging the LF to go into the battle with Aoun.” Only Washington and Damascus could have had this interest. By this point the LF was probably already plotting a surprise military strike to paralyse army communications to coincide with a “security plan” proposed for West Beirut in early February. On 30 January, Aoun intervened after army and LF mobilizations in a clash over LF use of school buildings in a Beirut suburb—he announced a compulsory “uniting of the rifle” in East Beirut, meaning absorption of the LF into his army brigades. For the LF this was a declaration of war. Immediately after Aoun’s “unification of weapons” speech, the LF stormed, captured, and held the Lebanese army barracks of Amshit, Sarba, Safra, Halate and the naval base at Jounieh, spread through the urban area and secured the Ashrafieh hill, adjacent to the militia “war council”. The unthinkable had happened. The LF had gone to war against Aoun who had been concentrating his forces against Syria was not prepared for a flare up within his base area. The army had taken no precautions with regard to its scattered barracks, ammunition dumps, and other assets in the LF heartland. The big Adma base which was exposed to LF encirclement had limited ammunition and no provision had been taken for the dispersal of the helicopter fleet which was destroyed by the LF on the first day of fighting.
The ferocity of the army-LF war of February—May 1990 was determined by the fact that the army started from a much eroded geographical position—the Matn—and faced the task of “conquering” more an 80% of the East Beirut enclave. A new Iraqi arms shipment in early 1990, “to be divided equally between the army and the LF” and intended by Iraq for trouble-making against Assad, meant East Beirut’s weapons stocks were at an all-time high. The Maronite community could thus blow itself apart in grand style. The LF’s arsenal was not much more inferior to that of Aoun and it had a less arduous task of holding ground in urban and mountain terrain favouring the defence, especially in winter weather. Awareness of its unpopularity merely made the militia more ruthless.
Through the first month the army launched attacks with increasing desperation to crack the LF. In early February Aoun cleared the LF from the coastal Matn, seizing the militia barracks at Dibye. This almost brought a morale collapse in the militia, but the destruction in the battle zone, which in three days matched the landscape created by years of shelling in old central Beirut, deterred Aoun from marching into Jounieh. Instead the army tried to outflank Jounieh and split the Kisrawan in a mountain push—a much longer distance in worse terrain and weather. This gave the LF time to recover its balance.
The army push petered out and Aoun turned to Beirut. He drove the LF
out of its Ayn al-Rumana pocket in an artillery firestorm. For each of
these assaults the army used about 1,000 men and 40 to 100 armoured
Finally, on 1 March, Aoun tried to overcome the LF’s defences around
“war council,” to bring the surrender of Ashrafieh and shatter the LF’s
apparatus. However, the army had to break off the engagement—the 400
who had spearheaded successive battles were exhausted and an ammunition
shortage silenced the army’s American howitzers. Aoun had to fall back
on inferior Iraqi supplied Soviet artillery pieces.
Military loss were heavy, by 1st March the Army had lost 32 officers and 251 soldiers dead; 40 tanks, 10 APCs, and 11 helicopters destroyed; 20 tanks and 15 APCs damaged.
The two groups that were best able to resist the Syrians were now fighting each other, and many soldiers on the opposing sides either knew each other or were even related and so refused to fight and simply went home. Aoun was reduced by the end April to half of his original military capability. He had lost his air and naval bases, major stocks of 155-mm shells, and 25% of his tank force. The initiative now passed out of his hands permanently. Syria aimed to have the LF and Aoun reduce each other to a point at which the LF would have to submit to the Ta’if arrangement without a quid pro quo, and Aoun would be so emasculated that he would either have to surrender or suffer a swift military blow.
The second phase was a stand-off, with shelling exchanges continuing until late May when an Iraqi-sponsored truce brought an uneasy calm. The population had faced intolerable disruptions and over 320,000 people had fled the enclave by the time the fighting stopped. The old East Beirut, where power centres had cohered against strategic challenges, was gone for good. In its place was a shell containing two entities, each anxious to blot out the other but unable to do so.
The final blow came on 9th April 1990 when the Lebanese Forces
their support for Taif and their readiness to hand over the
under their control to the rival government in west Beirut. The
continued and over 900 people died and over 3,000 were wounded during
battles called the 'War of Elimination' by Samir Geagea.
The Gulf War and the Syrian-American alliance
At the end of the 1980s, as superpower bipolarity faded and the U.S. became the dominant world power, the administration of President George Bush sought to buttress the Western position in the Middle East, to guarantee secure access to the Persian Gulf oil reservoir. Two important goals were to reduce instability in the Eastern Mediterranean, by quietening the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to restrict the influence of the Islamic regime in Iran. Also, the U.S. wished to assist conservative authoritarian regimes friendly to the West to maintain themselves. The U.S. might push for limited “democratization,” but appeared sympathetic to the view that Middle Eastern societies did not provide a suitable basis for popular participation in politics.
One of the prominent new features of Middle Eastern politics after the Cold War was Syria’s enhanced importance for the U.S. even while Syria’s strategic position deteriorated. On the one hand, Syria’s partnership with Iran allowed it to be a “go-between” with Tehran for the West and the Gulf oil states; Syria had become the major Arab state confronting Israel; and Syria was seen as the key to quietening Lebanon. Syria thus appeared to be critical to post—Cold War American plans for a Western-oriented order in the Middle East. On the other hand, Damascus had effectively lost Soviet patronage by 1989, meaning it had no superpower backing and little hope of weapons replacement in case of war with Israel, and the Syrian economy was hobbled by its military burden and the inefficiencies of a mafia-style dictator-ship. The situation seemed to increase the prospects for drawing Syria into a cooperative relationship with the West and whetted American expectations; a shrewd operator like Hafiz al-Assad could use this to improve Syria’s bargaining position.
Syria expected the U.S. and Israel to commit themselves to a pack-age of regional rewards before it shifted its posture. The package would include full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan, acknowledgement of a Syrian free hand with the Lebanese regime, an appropriate financial payoff, and widened access to Western aid and technology. On its side the U.S. indicated friendly intentions, but would not oblige Damascus on Arab-Israeli matters, or on a relaxation of the official American view of Syria as a state that supported “terrorism,” until Assad committed himself to full peace with Israel.
General Aoun’s 1989 campaign against the Syrians inconvenienced the U.S. In the American outlook, Aoun distracted attention from Israeli-Palestinian issues, was trying to create complications between the West and Syria at a time when the U.S. wanted to bring Syria into its new “order,” and was behaving in a way likely to make Lebanon even more attractive to disruptive forces, particularly Shi’ite Islamic radicalism. For their part, Lebanon’s Shi’ite militants enabled Iran to affect Middle Eastern affairs far beyond its own borders. In short, Lebanon’s Christian and Shi’ite communities each presented a serious challenge to U.S. policy for “stabilizing” the Middle East. The fact that Aoun and Hizballah both represented populist upsurges left the Americans cold—this only made it more imperative that both be curbed.
In 1989-90, a degree of U.S.-Syrian collaboration was established as the best means, according to the Bush administration, of putting a lid on Lebanon’s turbulent affairs. The U.S. worked with Syria and Saudi Arabia to have General Aoun removed in favor of a new Taif Lebanese regime the function of which was not to satisfy the aspirations of the Lebanese people, but to ensure that Lebanon ceased to be a distraction.
Iraq’s 2 August 1990 seizure of Kuwait, the Iraqi-American confrontation, and the infusion of Western forces into the Persian Gulf transformed Middle Eastern political calculations. The U.S. now needed—or, more accurately, imagined itself as needing—the broadest possible Arab military participation, and Syria suddenly found itself the object of the most flattering Western attentions. Assad tested the winds of the world for a week or so, calculated that his Iraqi enemy was head-ed for catastrophe, and offered himself as a partner in the American-led coalition. By mid-August, as the daily al-Safir noted, it was obvious that “Gulf events have removed foreign barriers standing against the Hirawi government asking Syria to strike at the unnatural situation in East Beirut.”
Intensified Syrian-American consultations culminated in the 13 September visit of Secretary of State James Baker to Damascus. Assad provided troops to sit in Saudi Arabia and in late September, clearly at Baker’s request, made his first personal visit to Tehran to “secure continuation of Iran’s adherence to [U.N.] sanctions [against Iraq].” In exchange for involvement in the Gulf, Damascus expected and got approval to settle things in Beirut, by whatever means.
In late August the U.S. ambassador to Syria gratified Syrian officials and the Hirawi regime by publicly stating that “we [the U.S.] want to see immediate implementation of Ta’if.” American reservations about Syria’s association with “terrorism” temporarily vanished. The only American requirements, completely coincident with Syria’s own approach, were that the operation must be swift and by invitation of the Hirawi government, to counter comparisons with Iraqi behavior concerning Kuwait. Curiously, in mid-September the Israelis seemed convinced that Syria was too busy with the Gulf crisis to open “an additional front” in Lebanon—this after the U.S. had already assured Lebanese officials, and by extension the Syrians, that Israel would not interfere “provided there is no movement southward.” The question arises as to whether the U.S. sought to neutralize Israel by deliberately misleading the Israelis about American-Syrian understandings.
Coordinated activities by the Hirawi government and Syria went ahead slowly as Assad wanted to give Aoun a last chance to submit. The LF-Kateab camp in East Beirut threw in its lot with the regime: Assad was so pleased with Kata’ib leader George Sa’ada at a late July audi-ence that he asked him “not to stay away from us too long.” On 21 August, parliament met with the necessary two-thirds quorum, courtesy of the LF, and voted through the Ta’if constitutional amendments. The National Assembly approved, and President Hrawi signed into law, constitutional amendments embodying the political reform aspects of the Taif agreement. These amendments gave some presidential powers to the council of ministers, expanded the National Assembly from 99 to 108 seats, and divided those seats equally between Christians and Muslims. This completed the formal legal base of the regime, at least to the satisfaction of its partisans. On 23 September, LF and Syrian delegations had a productive session in the Beqaa and on 26 September the LF handed over the crossing points on Aoun-LF fronts to Hirawi government troops.
On 28 September, the Ta’if regime committed its prestige and existence to a successful showdown by imposing a siege on the Aoun area, blocking food supplies to the population.
The Seige Against Aoun
On the 28th September General Lahoud gave orders to army units under his command to completely enforce the siege with the aim forcing half a million people live in Aoun controlled territory to surrender or turn against Aoun. The Lebanese Forces took part in the siege.
Two days later Salim El Hoss met with George Bush and his Administration and obtained their approval and support for the steps taken against General Aoun.
People living in areas outside the seige rejected the decision and did what they could to help by providing supplies which they smuggled in at night. The besieged people responded by calling for a demonstration to cross the crossing points and meet the people on the opposite side in an attempt to break the siege.
On the first of October the people on both sides of the seige gathered and in the evening began moving towards three major crossing points - El Dowwar, the Museum, and Nahr El Mout. At El Dowwar the Syrian army stopped the people from crossing into Aoun areas but beseiged civilians managed to mix with units of the 7th Brigade which was at the crossing point. At the Museum Crossing people were allowed to meet and mix with the men of the 6th Brigade. At Nahr El Mout the Lebanese Forces opened fire on the people as they silently marched through the streets holding candles with the resutlt of 12 deaths and 50 wounded.
The Attempted Assassination of General Aoun
Friday afternoon the courts yards of the Palace were full of thousands of people acting as a human sheild to guard Aoun. The Lebanese Forces artillery opened fire o them and dispersed them but soon they returned. The General came out to address the people. As soon as he opened his mouth and started his address with "Great People Of Lebanon" a man named Habib Hillal (Francois Habib Halal) who was in the crowd opened fire with a hand gun and fired four shots at the General. The podium o which Aoun was standing was made of reinforced steel and bullet proof material and so protected him. I was standing near him. Lebanese army officers standing near by jumped on General Aoun covered him with their bodies. The people in the crowd attacked the assassin whilest his guards carried Aoun to a safe place. A Lebanese Army Commando, Captain Shamel Rookoz, jumped down into the crowd and rescued Francois Hillal before the people could tear him to pieces. In the attempted assassination Habib Halal shot and killed one bystander. Francois Hillal was a member of the Syrian Ba'ath Party, a Shi'ite from South Lebanon but carried the Australian citizenship. He was arrested but General Aoun gave orders that he should be well treated and handed over to the proper authorities for investigation. Hallal was released from prison the very next day after the Syrian army October 13th onslaught against Aoun. He gave a press conference at the Syrian Baath Party quarters in Beirut. The Baath Secretary General, Abdallah Al-Amin (who later became minister of Labour) introduced Hallal as a national hero of the Arab cause.
13th October 1990
In October 1990, the Syrian military supported by a few Lebanese troops loyal to Hrawi launched an attack against General Aoun. The attack came just after 7:00 a.m. on the 13th October and started with an air raid by Syrian Soukhoi fighter bombers against the Palace and the Ministry of Defence. For many years a no fly zone over the whole of Lebanon had been enforced by the Israelis preventing the Syrians from using their airforce, on this day however, the Syrians were allowed to fly by the United States as reward for their joining the NATO coalition against Iraq in the Gulf crisis. Immediately before the assault, Syrian aircraft overflew the Matn to test the efficacy of American intervention with Israel.
The air attacks lasted 13 minutes after which Syrian special forces troops advance under massive artillery cover, LF artillery joined Syrian artillery and fired on the Lebanese Army. The French considered intervention through their fleet positioned off the Lebanese coast, but after this did not materialize due to American pressure, General Aoun realizes that he cannot win and at 8:45 a.m. announces his surrender from the near by French embassy in order "to avoid even more bloodshed, limit the damage and to save what remains." The surrender is broadcast on all radio stations throughout the day as General Aoun personally contacts his field commanders to orders that they "obey the orders of the commander in chief of the Army, General Emile Lahoud." At 10:00 a.m. the Syrians enter the Palace but despite this, many units of the Lebanese Army initially refuse to surrender and heavy fighting continues, a Lebanese Army unit counter attacks Deir al-Qalaa, at Beit-Mery, and manages to oust Syrians special forces that had occupied the monastery by force at the very start of the day. The Lebanese unit finds that some of the monks in the monastery had been killed by the Syrian troops. At Douar, on the Bikfaya front, the elite commandos engaged Syrians tanks and caused heavy damage. On the hill of the Prince, at Souk al-Gharb, the cadets of the military Academy, assisted by regulars of the 10th Brigade put up a very hard fight. In Suq al-Gharb itself, Aoun’s Lebanese army units, with only a fraction of their pre-February 1990 hardware, killed about 400 Syrians before the front was overrun. The Lebanese Army headquarters at Yarze despite the radio broadcasts refused to give the ceasefire order as they had not been able to speak with Aoun and verify the order, finally announcing it 12:30 p.m after establishing communications with the general. It was fortunate that Aoun had managed to directly speak to many of his units and so prevent much bloodshed.
Disaster did strike however at Dahr el-Wahesh, village between Aley and Kahaleh, where the 102nd unit of the Lebanese 10th Brigade had been positioned. The 10th Brigade had been rather thinly deployed throughout the front line and during the battle some of its units had been unable to communicate with their headquarters and those soldiers at Dahr el-Wahesh, numbering less than one hundred had not heard the radio broadcasts. Details of the events that followed are rather vague due to the lack of survivors. It seems that heavy fighting had occurred from the outset around the village with Syrians taking heavy losses. After the ceasefire was announced, around one thousand Syrian soldiers along with a handful of troops from the Lebanese 6th Brigade which was traditionally loyal to Amal, approached the village from Aley during what they believed was a ceasefire. The Lebanese soldiers unaware of the ceasefire fired upon the Syrian column with light artillery. The Syrians were caught in the open and in panic some Syrians ran straight towards the Lebanese positions and some ran into a mine field. A Lebanese officer of the 6th Brigade informed the defenders of Dahr el-Wahesh that the fighting was over and that they should surrender. The officer commanding the 102nd and his men would only surrender to a Lebanese Army unit and not to the Syrian Army. The Syrians however would not pull back and a fight to the death followed.
Estimates of Syrian losses ranged from 160 to 450 in the battle that followed and it seems that the 102nd fought on until their ammunition ran out refusing to let Dahr el-Wahesh, which overlooks the Palace, fall into Syrian hands. Later that afternoon some 80 bodies of soldiers of the 102nd would be brought to a Baabda mortuary, most had their hands tied behind their backs and had been shot in the back of the head, some had been stripped down to their underpants before being executed. The Syrians executed one of the officers, Emile Boutros, by forcing him to lay down on the road and then driving a tank over him. At least 15 civilians were executed by Syrian soldiers in Bsous after having been rounded up from their homes, and another 19 people, including three women, were reported to have been killed in cold blood in al-Hadath. Around the Presidential Palace another 51 Lebanese Army soldiers were stripped and excecuted.
It was also reported that at least 200 supporters of General Aoun,
of them military personnel, were arrested by the Syrian forces in east
Beirut and its suburbs, these men simply disapeared. Many of them are
believed to be still held in Syrian prisons.
Father Suleiman Abu Khalil and Father Albert Sherfan, two priests, also ''disappeared'' during the events of 13 October 1990. Father Albert Sherfan was the head of the Deir al-Qalaa Monastery in Beit Meri and Father Suleiman was the treasurer. On 13 October 1990 it was reported that the Syrian forces took up a position near the monastery, after a long battle which claimed the lives of 25 Syrian soldiers, because of its strategic position overlooking the Metn districts and other areas. These two priests, who had not been killed in the battle, ''disappeared'' on the same day together with some soldiers of the Lebanese army who had apparently taken refuge in the monastery. The brother of Father Suleiman Abu Khalil recalls:
''On 13 October 1990 the monastery was occupied by the Syrian forces. I tried to obtain an authorization to go and see Suleiman but I couldn't. At about 10am a Syrian officer asked to enter the monastery to have a drink of water. Father Suleiman appeared at the balcony and at the same time another monk came out to see what was happening. The Syrians apparently were surprised to see that there was more than one monk in the monastery and became suspicious that people might be hiding there. Accordingly, the Syrian officers rang all the Lebanese authorities they could reach to allow them to enter and search the monastery. When they went in they found Lebanese soldiers in civilian clothes. They arrested everyone they found and took them away, the soldiers in a lorry and the two monks in a Range Rover. All were taken first to Anjar and then to Far Falastin in Damascus. We contacted a lot of people to intervene on their behalf but all our efforts came to nothing.''
The Murder of Dany Chamoun
Over the next few days after the surrender of General Aoun, Syrian agents moved into East Beirut and many Aoun supporters were arrested. Opposition was put down. On 21st October 1990, Dany Chamoun, the leader of the National Liberal party, who was against Syrian presence in Lebanon and had been a strong supporter of General Aoun's policies was killed in cold blood by uniformed gunmen who broke into his apartment in the early hours. His wife and his two young boys, aged 5 and 7, were also killed in the most disgraceful of ways. The scale of the horror and the savagery of the killings were barbaric even by Lebanese standards. The housekeeper took Dany's baby daughter and hid in the attic, they were the only survivors. What is not surprising is that nothing has been done to find the assassins.
On December 24, 1990, Omar Karami was appointed Lebanon's Prime Minister. General Aoun remained in the French embassy until August 27, 1991 when a "special pardon" was issued, allowing him to leave Lebanon safely and take up residence in exile in France. 1991 and 1992 saw considerable advancement in efforts to reassert state control over Lebanese territory. The militias were dissolved in May 1991 with the important exception of Hizballah and units of Amal so that they can carry on the fight to oust the Israelis from Lebanon, and the armed forces moved against armed Palestinian elements in Sidon in July 1991. In May 1992 the last of the western hostages taken during the mid 1980s by Islamic extremists was released.
The turnout of eligible voters in some Christian locales was extremely low, with many voters not participating in the elections because they objected to voting in the presence of non Lebanese forces. There also were widespread reports of irregularities. The electoral rolls were themselves in many instances unreliable because of the destruction of records and the use of forged identification papers. As a consequence, the results do not reflect the full spectrum of Lebanese politics.
Elements of the 1992 electoral law, which paved the way for elections, represented a departure from stipulations of the Taif agreement, expanding the number of parliamentary seats from 108 to 128 and employing a temporary districting arrangement designed to favour certain sects and political interests. According to the Taif agreement, the Syrian and Lebanese Governments were to agree in September 1992 to the redeployment of Syrian troops from greater Beirut. That date passed without an agreement.
Trouble in the South, Operation Accountability, Operation Grapes of Wrath and the Qana Massacre
Fighting continued in the south between Hizballah and the Israelis to various degrees of intensity. During the escalation in the fighting in July 1993 known as "Operation Accountability" in Israel and the "Seven Day War" in Lebanon, some 120 Lebanese civilians were killed and close to 500 injured by a ferocious Israeli assault on population centres in southern Lebanon, an offensive which also temporarily displaced some 300,000 Lebanese villagers. The stated goals of the Israeli operation were not only to punish Hizballah, but also to inflict serious damage on villages in southern Lebanon and create a refugee flow in the direction of Beirut so as to put pressure on the Lebanese government to rein in the guerrillas. Hizballah, in retaliation, indiscriminately fired a number of Katyusha rockets across the border into northern Israel during that week, killing two and injuring twenty four civilians.
To end the fighting in July 1993, the United States brokered an unwritten agreement between Israel and Hizballah, the July 1993 "understandings." The agreement supposedly prohibited attacks on civilians, but both sides understood the agreement to mean that if one side broke the rules, the other side could do so as well. As a result, between July 1993 and April 1996, both sides have accepted civilian casualties whenever their side had attacked civilians first.
In April 1996, the agreement that had ended the July 1993 fighting broke down under the weight of cumulative violations by both sides. Civilians in Lebanon and Israel were dying. On April 9, Israeli officials declared that "these rules of the game are not good and cannot remain," and that "residents in south Lebanon who are under the responsibility of Hizballah will be hit harder, and the Hizballah will be hit harder." Within forty eight hours, Israel launched what it referred to as "Operation Grapes of Wrath." Between 160 and 170 Lebanese civilians were killed during the sixteen day offensive and over 350 wounded. Fourteen Hizballah fighters were killed. Estimates of the number of displaced civilians range from 300,000 to 500,000 civilians, including well over 150,000 children. In the single most lethal event of the operation, on April 18, 1996, at least seventeen Israeli high explosive artillery shells hit a UNIFIL compound near the village of Qana, in which over 800 Lebanese civilians had taken shelter. Some 102 civilians were killed. A U.N. inquiry found that it was "unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors," strongly suggesting that the base had been deliberately targeted. According to the Isrealis "At 1352 and 1358 hours, respectively, Israeli locating radar had identified two separate targets in Qana from where fire had originated. The first target was located 200 metres or so south-west of the United Nations compound. The second target was located some 350 metres south-east of the compound. The data had been sent automatically to the Northern Command and to an artillery battalion located on the Israel-Lebanon border, about 12 kilometres from the sea. The battalion comprises three batters with four guns each. It is equipped with M-109A2 guns (15-millimetre calibre). When the battalion received the data, it checked the targets on a map and found that one of the two locations was between 200 to 300 metres from the United Nations position at Qana. The commanding officer had therefore sought instructions from Northern Command, which rechecked the data and gave permission to fire. This decision had not been taken lightly; officers of some seniority had been involved. When the order to fire came, the first target had been engaged by one battery, using all four guns. Thirty-eight shells (high-explosive) had been fired, about two thirds with impact fuses and one third with proximity fuses. (Proximity fuses cause a round to explode in the air above the target; they are often used for anti-personnel fire.) The two types of fuses had been employed in random order. Convergence fire had been used so that the impacts would be concentrated in the target area. Regrettably, a few rounds had overshot and hit the United Nations compound. "
A UN team questioned a number of witnesses on the activities of Hezbollah fighters in Qana prior to the incident. The following was found:
(a) Between 1200 and 1400 hours on 18 April, Hezbollah fighters fired two or three rockets from a location 350 metres south-east of the United Nations compound. The location was identified on the ground.
(b) Between 1230 and 1300 hours, they fired four or five rockets from location 600 metres south-east of the compound. The location was identified on the ground.
(c) About 15 minutes before the shelling, they fired between five and eight rounds of 120 millimetre mortar from a location 220 metres south-west of the centre of the compound. The location was identified on the ground. According to witnesses, the mortar was installed there between 1100 and 1200 hours that day, but no action was taken by UNIFIL personnel to remove it. (On 15 April, a Fijian had been shot in the chest as he tried to prevent Hezbollah fighters from firing rockets.)
(d) The United Nations compound at Qana had taken a large number of Lebanese seeking shelter from Israeli bombardments. By Sunday, 14 April, 745 persons were in the compound. On 18 April, the day of the shelling, their number is estimated to have been well over 800. When the Fijian soldiers heard the mortar being fired not far from their compound, they began immediately to move as many of the civilians as possible into shelters so that they would be protected from any Israeli retaliation.
(e) At some point (it is not completely clear whether before or after the shelling), two or three Hezbollah fighters entered the United Nations compound, where their families were.
The UN findings were that the distribution of impacts at Qana shows two distinct concentrations, whose mean points of impact are about 140 metres apart. If the guns were converged, as stated by the Israeli forces, there should have been only one main point of impact. The pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target (the mortar site) by a few rounds, as suggested by the Israeli forces. The findings conclude "While the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors."
The Israeli offensive in April 1996 ended with a cease-fire agreement, brokered by the U.S., that was an improvement over the July 1993 understandings. This time, the agreement was contained in a public written document that included a commitment by both Israel and "armed groups in Lebanon" to "insuring that under no circumstances will civilians be the target of attack and that civilian populated areas and industrial and electrical installations will not be used as launching grounds for attacks." The agreement also established a group consisting of Lebanon, Israel, Syria, France and the United States to monitor compliance with the agreement. However the agreement did not stop the fighting altogether, it only toned it down carrying on in a low intensity form for the next couple of years without major incident.
Hit and run attacks by Hizballah and ambushes against the Israelis and the SLA caused high casualties and in 1999 the SLA were no longer able to maintain their positions in and around Jezzine and so in the last few days of May 1999 they withdrew. The SLA moved south but some 250 SLA militiamen chose to remain behind and surrendered to Lebanese authorities, they were then jailed them for various terms ranging from one year to ten.
Over the next few weeks fighting between Hizballah, the Israelis and the SLA intensified and slowly began to target civilians. On the 23rd June 1999, three civilians were wounded, including a 12 year old boy, in Israeli artillery attacks on Qabrikha and Yater, and on the 24th June, shells fired from the Israeli occupied enclave wounded a woman in Qabrikha. Hizballah listed 21 attacks on 11 Lebanese villages between June 19 and June 23 1999 and said it had on several occasions fired warning mortar rounds at border outposts, but when the Israelis failed to get the message it was compelled to fire deeper into Israel. Citing a marked increase in assaults targeting civilians in south Lebanon, Hizballah gunners unleashed four volleys of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel on the afternoon of the 24th June 1999 as a “warning message” to Israel to halt its violations of the April 1996 Understanding. Twenty nine rockets were fired. In Israel, military sources claimed five people suffered mild wounds or were treated for shock. The Israeli response was heavy. Israeli fighter-bombers on the night of 24th June blasted power plants, bridges, telephone exchanges, and other infrastructure facilities across Lebanon causing millions of dollars of damage. At least seven people were killed and more than 35 wounded. In response, Hizballah unleashed more volleys of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, killing two Israeli civilians.
On New Year's eve 1999, as Lebanon entered the year 2000 full of hope and joy, attention was quickly turned away from south Lebanon as a group of Sunni fundamentalist militants went on the rampage in north Lebanon.
The mountainous area of Dinnieh northeast of Tripoli suffered a 4-day "war" between Lebanese Army units and a group of 150-200 Sunni fundamentalist militants, in which 11 troops(including one officer), 5 civilians and 27 attackers were killed, and 6 soldiers, 12 civilians and 20 attackers wounded. The events started when the militants ambushed an army unit in the village of Assoun, killing five soldiers and army Major Milas Naddaf was kidnapped. The militants belonged to the "At-Takfir wal-Hijra" organization. The ambush and abduction triggered the largest military operation since the end of the civil war, involving 4,000 troops, tanks and helicopters, and the fighting extended to the village of Kfar Habou, where the rebels leader Bassam Kanj was killed after a battle. In the house where Kanj took refuge, the body of Major Naddaf was found with his throat slit, along with the mutilated bodies of two hostages, 21-year-old Sarah Yazbeck and her mother Salwa Raad both of whom had been brutalised before being murdered. By January 5th 2000 security forces said that the operation was over and that 67 Islamic fighters had been captured.
The group's membership was extremely multifaceted. Although most were from Lebanon, there were also a significant number of Palestinians, Syrians, and others from elsewhere in the Arab world. Most had been previously affiliated with anti-Syrian Sunni Islamist movements such as Jama'a al-Islamiyya and Al-Tawhid al-Islami. The Lebanese-born leader of Takfir wa al-Hijra, Bassam Ahmad Kanj (also known as Abu A'isha), and many of its members reportedly fought with the Afghani mujahidin against occupying Soviet forces in the 1980's. It seems that Kanj received financial support from fellow Afghan veteran Osama bin Laden through bank accounts in Beirut and north Lebanon.
While the Dinnieh clashes were under way, on January 2, a gunman claiming to be "a martyr for Grozny" fired several rocket-propelled grenades at the Russian embassy in Beirut, killing a security guard and wounding several others before he was kileed by Lebanese security forces. Lebanese officials publicly dismissed the man, a Palestinian named Ahmad Raja Abu Kharrub (alias Abu Ubeida) as a psychologically unstable individual. However, according to reports, Abu Kharrub was a member of Usbat al-Ansar (the Partisan League), a Sunni Islamist Palestinian group linked to Takfir wa al-Hijra, based in the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon. The leader of Usbat al-Ansar, Abd al-Karim al-Sa'di, is said to have sent members of group to Beirut and other areas of Lebanon in November to avenge Russian atrocities in Chechnya. Usbat al-Ansar is also suspected of responsibility for a grenade attack against a Lebanese army checkpoint near the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp that wounded a soldier on the same day. The following week, four unidentified gunmen disguised as Army soldiers attempted to launch another attack on the Russian embassy from the neighboring Bohsali building, but the plot was foiled by security forces.
South Lebanon flared up soon after and during January and February 2000 seven Israeli soldiers were killed in guerrilla attacks. Israel retaliated by bombing three power stations in Lebanon, wounding 15 civilians and causing $20 million in damage.
As part of Ehud Barak's election campaign he promised to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon by July 7 2000. As the deadline approached the SLA began to collapse with many of its troops abandoning their positions.
As the deadline for ending the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon neared, fighting intensivied with ten people being wounded on May 18th 2000. The injured included two Israeli soldiers, two members of the Israeli-run South Lebanon Army (SLA) militia, a Hizbollah guerrilla, four Lebanese civilians and a U.N. peacekeeper. The exchanges of artillery fire and Israeli air raids on suspected guerrilla targets continued into the night.
With this, the causualty toll in fighting in the year 2000 stood at eight Israeli soldiers dead and 25 wounded, 24 SLA members killed and 37 injured, 10 guerrillas dead and eight hurt, five Lebanese civilians dead and 61 wounded, one Lebanese soldier injured and two U.N. peacekeepers wounded.
On 20th May 2000, the Israeli airforce attacted a military base of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) near Deir al-Ghazal in the Bekaa Valley. The Israelis destroyed 10 T-55 tanks killing a handful of Palestinian guerrillas in the process.
It was becoming obvious that the Israelis were going to pull out well ahead of the July 7 deadline and over the next couple of days dozens of Israeli allied Lebanese militiamen fled to Israel's border, asking for asylum after their military outposts fell to Hezbollah guerrillas. The SLA did put up a fight in some places with SLA fire claiming six Lebanese lives on May 22.
On the night of the 22nd May 2000, under cover of darkness the Israelis began their final pullout which was complete by the 24th.
SLA units throughout the security zone began to disintegrate almost immediately after Israeli troops began pulling out of the central sector and abandoned large stocks of heavy weapons and armored vehicles to advancing Hezbollah guerrillas, forcing the Israeli Airforce to divert aircraft from ground support missions to the destruction of SLA arms caches. Within 24 hours of the start of the pullout the SLA had completely collapsed.
The speed of collapse of the 2500 man strong SLA was surprising with some 1700 surrendering and the rest, along with their relatives, taking refuge in Isreal. While the speedy collapse of Shiite SLA units was expected, IDF military planners had assumed that predominantly Druze and Christian units in the more heterogeneous eastern and western sectors would remain intact. The rapid collapse of the SLA appears to have been a result of several factors. Firstly, a threat made by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to "liquidate" all SLA members who fail to surrender when the Israelis pull out was taken very seriously by the SLA rank and file. Secondly a secret deal reportedly negotiated in advance by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Nasrallah resulted in most Druze SLA units surrendering en masse to Hezbollah, this left the remaining units isolated and demoralized. Thirdly, General Lahd traveled to France in mid May for an extended visit with his family, the last opportunity to do so, he thought, before the situation in south Lebanon heated up prior to the scheduled withdrawal of Israeli forces by July 7. His abscence caused a tremendous drop in the morale of SLA troops. After belatedly learning of the turn of events in the south, Lahd quickly flew back to Tel Aviv and drove up to the border, only to discover that there was no South Lebanon Army left for him to lead.
The conduct of the Hizballah guerrillas in the areas previously held by the SLA was most honourable. Revenge killings, mass murders, and massacres that many feared would take place did not occur.
The Lebanese government welcomed the pullout but demanded that Israel abandon the Shebaa farms that were captured in 1967. Israel claims that these farms were Syrian but the Lebanese and the Syrians both claim that the farms are Lebanese. The matter was investigated by the UN and it was decided that the pullout was complete.
The Shebaa Shambles
On October 7th 2000, in an operation which had been planned for months, three Israel army technicians conducting a routine check of the border fence near the village of Shebaa suddenly came under rocket and machine gun fire from a team of Hezbollah guerrillas. During the fifteen-minute clash, in which all three of the soldiers were wounded (one of them seriously), another team of guerrillas proceeded to cut through the border fence and abduct the soldiers, while nearby Hezbollah units launched a heavy artillery bombardment of neighboring Israeli outposts to pin down IDF reinforcements, wounding six Israeli soldiers. The captured men, later identified as Omar Suwad, 25, Benyamin Avraham, 20, and Adi Avitan, 20, were shoved into two (or three) get away cars on the Lebanese side of the border which sped off in different directions, while an estimated 400 guerrillas deployed in forward positions in neighboring villages to prepare for an Israeli ground offensive.
Israeli television stated that "a severe ultimatum" threatening to "retaliate very forcefully" unless the soldiers were returned had been issued to the Lebanese government, while the Lebanese media reported that the Israel threatened to bomb Beirut if Hezbollah failed to release them within four hours. Although Israeli air force planes penetrated Lebanese air space after the abduction (which had been meticulously avoided since the IDF pullout in May), no retaliatory action was forthcoming.
On October 15, speaking before a joint session of the Arab and Islamic Nationalist Conferences at the Carlton Hotel in Beirut, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced the capture of a fourth Israeli, later identified as Elhanan Tennenbaum, a 54-year-old reserve air-force colonel. "God help the prime minister today," he added, turning to Lebanese Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss and other government officials in attendance, "in dealing with the many phone calls he will get from Albright."
Nasrallah later said that Tennenbaum was an undercover Israeli intelligence operative who had been attempting to infiltrate the group. According to this account, he was lured to Lebanon by the prospect of meeting with a senior Hezbollah official (with whom he had established contact through an intermediary) and was seized upon entering the country. Israeli officials insisted that Tennenbaum was a civilian employed by a consulting firm linked to two prominent Israeli electronic and military communications companies, Tadiran and Rafael, and that he was kidnapped in the Swiss city of Lausanne.
Israel held Syria responsible for the incidents and threatend retaliation against Syrian interests in Lebanon. Diplomatic efforts to gain the release of the prisoners which continued for months but were interupted as Hizbollah struck again four months later on February 16, 2001. In an anti tank missile ambush one Israeli soldier was killed and two others wounded when Hizbollah guerrillas destroyed a patrolling Hummer jeep in the Shebaa farms area. Israel shelled south Lebanon in retaliation to a Hizbollah guerrilla attack and again said that it held Syria responsible but did not retaliate against Syria as Isreal was still trying to secure the freedom of its captured soldiers.
On April 14 2001 Hizbullah fighters destroyed an Israeli tank in a cross-border missile ambush, prompting Israeli jets, helicopter gunships, tanks, and artillery to blast the outskirts of Shebaa and Kfar Chouba in south Lebanon with sustained fire. Hezbollah guerrillas hit the Israeli Merkava tank with a Sagger missile and killed an Israeli soldier and wounded three others in the Shebaa Farms area, where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet. A special U.N. envoy said the next day that the rocket attack that killed an Israeli soldier in a disputed border zone violated the U.N.-drawn boundary between Lebanon and Israel. Again Israel said it would hold Syria responsible for the attack.
In the very early hours of April 16th Israel struck Syrian positions in Lebanon. Israeli jets bombarded a Syrian radar station in the mountainous region of Dhar al Baydar, 45 kilometres (27 miles) east of Beirut, at 12.30 am Monday (2130 GMT Sunday). The planes also fired at a Syrian anti-aircraft position two kilometres away in the Mdeirej-Hammana region near the Beirut-Damascus highway. Israel said the raid on a Syrian radar station in Lebanon was a clear message to Syrian leaders that they would pay if they did not drop support for Hizbollah guerrillas.
Security sources said four Israeli planes carried out three successive runs, firing six rockets on the Syrian radar station and one on a nearby Syrian position. The Israeli warplanes killed at least three Syrian soldiers and wounded six others in the attack. One of the Syrian soldiers killed was an officer.
September 11th 2001
In a series of coordinated terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, members of the al-Qaida militant Islamist group hijacked four aircraft. They crashed two into the two towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York City and a third into the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters, the Pentagon, in Arlington County, Virginia, just outside of the capital, Washington, D.C.. A fourth hijacked plane was intentionally crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers fought back and stormed into the cockpit.
The attacks were the first highly lethal attack by a foreign force on the mainland U.S. since the War of 1812. With a death toll of nearly 3,000, the attacks exceeded the toll of approximately 2,400 dead following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The way the United States looked at the Middle East suddenly changed. No longer were terrorists going to be allowed to have shelter in the Middle East. Afganistan was quickly invaded, the Taliban removed from power and Al Qaeda training bases destroyed and terrorists captured. The Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mulah Omar have so far evaded capture.
In a video broadcast on October 28th 2004 Bin Laden explained his reasons for attacking the United States:
"But after the injustice was so much and we saw transgressions and the coalition between Americans and the Israelis against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it occurred to my mind that we deal with the towers. And these special events that directly and personally affected me go back to 1982 and what happened when America gave permission for Israel to invade Lebanon. And assistance was given by the American sixth fleet.
During those crucial moments, my mind was thinking about many things that are hard to describe. But they produced a feeling to refuse and reject injustice, and I had determination to punish the transgressors.
And as I was looking at those towers that were destroyed in Lebanon, it occurred to me that we have to punish the transgressor with the same -- and that we had to destroy the towers in America so that they taste what we tasted, and they stop killing our women and children."
The Assassination of Elie Hobeika
At 9:30 AM on January 24, 2002, Hobeika and three bodyguards left his apartment on Kamel Asaad street in suburban Hazmieh southeast of the capital en route to his office in Sin al-Fil. Shortly after their departure, the blue Range Rover they were driving slowed down to pass by a white Mercedes 280 parked on the side of a narrow road. As Hobeika's car passed the Mercedes, an estimated 22 kilos of high explosive in the Mercedes was detonated apparently by remote control. Hobeika and his bodyguards, Dmitri Ajram, Walid Zein and Faris Suedan, were instant'y killed. The explosion reportedly catapulted Hobeika's body over sixty meters from the wrecked SUV. The explosion injured six bystanders. The blast blackened neighboring apartment buildings, destroyed dozens of cars parked nearby, and even shattered glass windows up to one kilometer away from the scene.
There was no claim of responsibility for the mid-morning blast, but also no shortage of possible suspects. Lebanon was quick to accuse Israel, claiming that 45-year-old Hobeika was killed to prevent him from testifying in an impending court case against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Belgium. The prosecution in the case holds Sharon directly responsible for 1982 massacre in Sabra and Shatilla. Although Hobeika's lasting claim to notoriety was his during the 1982 massacre, in July 2001, Hobeika broke his characteristic silence over the Sabra and Shatila massacre to plead innocent of any involvement, claiming to have documents and tapes that proved he was not in the vicinity of the camps at the time. In a secret meeting in Beirut with two visiting Belgian senators on January 22nd 2002, Hobeika reportedly informed them that he feared for his life. One of the senators, Josy Dubie said in Brussels on the day of the assassination that when he asked Hobeika if he felt threatened, he replied: "I feel threatened. I have revelations to make." The senator also said, "I then asked why he did not make these revelations now and he replied to me: 'I am saving them for the trial.' "
Since Israel has carried out similar assassinations of its enemies in Lebanon in the past (e.g. the January 1979 assassination of Abu Ali Hassan Salameh, the commander of Yasser Arafat's Force 17), it might have been able to carry out the assassination of Hobeika, either directly or through Lebanese proxies, even in an area like Hazmieh.
In the aftermath of September 11, Hobeika attempted to win American support by contacting the CIA to offer his help in locating and capturing Imad Mughniyah, the former head of special overseas operations for Hezbollah who is listed on the Bush administration's most wanted terrorist list. Hobeika had collaborated with CIA operatives in Lebanon in the early 1980s and attended a training course at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia in 1982. His services would have been a valuable asset in the hunt for Mughniyah. Hobeika owned one of the largest private security firms in Lebanon (in effect, a small militia made up of bodyguards with legally-registered weaponry and skilled intelligence operatives) that has a presence in the largely Shi'ite southern suburbs of Beirut - the most likely location of Mughniyah.
By late 2001, the Syrians had completely withdrawn their protection of Hobeika and instructed the Lebanese judiciary to take action against him, or at least threaten to do so. Given the timing of the judicial moves, it appears likely that the Syrian intelligence learned about his attempts to approach the CIA and this would have given them a strong motive to eliminate him, or allow others to eliminate him, before he could do so. The event could serve as a pretext for a massive crackdown on opponents of the Syrian occupation in Lebanon. More generally, the assassination, which bore an uncanny resemblance to killings during the war, lent support to Syria's claim that a withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon would lead to internal violence and instability.
During the last month of his life, Hobeika was extremely distraught due to the steadily escalating measures taken against him by the Syrian-backed regime in Beirut and became wildly paranoid. During the funeral of a close ally and confidante, former MP Jean Ghanem, who died on January 14 from injuries sustained in a car crash in Hazmieh, Hobeika told several people that the latter's death was not accidental.
Hezbollah's political leadership has its own grudge against Hobeika dating back to the March 1985 car bomb attack against Fadlallah, as does the movement's main external sponsor, Iran, for his role in the deaths of four Iranian diplomats during the civil war. A more immediate motive for eliminating Hobeika would have been the desire to preempt his assistance to the CIA in locating Imad Mughniyah, the head of Hezbollah's Foreign Operations Branch (jihaz al-amaliyyat al-kharijiyya).
In light of the large numbers of Palestinians that Hobeika was responsible for killing during the war in Lebanon, the possibility that an armed Palestinian faction carried out the assassination cannot be discounted. In 2001, a senior official of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in Lebanon, Bassam Abu Sharif, threatened to kill Hobeika.
Another possible culprit is the radical wing of the LF. In 1991, according to the Lebanese authorities, LF operatives loyal to Samir Geagea carried out a 1991 bombing which destroyed Hobeika's car and killed one of his bodyguards. In June 1998, the Lebanese authorities claimed to have uncovered a plot by former LF intelligence operatives to assassinate Hobeika, as well as Maj. Gen. Ghazi Kanaan, the chief of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, and then-Interior Minister Michel Murr. The 13 alleged members of the cell who were arrested by security forces reportedly received their orders via the Internet from an LF office in Australia. However, as the above failures illustrate, radical LF factions have been thoroughly penetrated by Lebanese and Syrian intelligence over the last ten years. It is highly unlikely that any anti-Syrian faction of the LF could have undertaken an operation of this complexity in Hazmieh unless it was coordinating with the Syrians - which seems unlikely.
Hobeika's enemies had many reasons to despise him. He betrayed his people to the Syrians and was seen as a mass murderer by the Palestinians. For many, he was first an Israeli agent, and later a Syrian agent. For others still, he was a double agent and a hated and dangerous man.
The assassination was quickly forgotten as events in the south took center stage.
Operation Defensive Shield
Suicide attacks by Palestinians in Israel against civilians that had started in 1995 had become much more frequent and savage and by early 2002 the situation for the Israelis was becoming unbearable. In March 2002 suicide bombings had almost become a dialy occurence:
2 March: Nine people killed including two babies, and 57 injured
suicide bomb attack in an ultra-Orthodox area of Jerusalem.
5 March: One person killed and several others injured in suicide bomb attack on a bus at Afula central bus station.
9 March: 11 people killed and 50 injured in suicide bomb attack on busy cafe in west Jerusalem, near the official residence of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
20 March: Seven people killed in a suicide bomb attack on a bus carrying mainly Arab labourers near the northern town of Umm el-Fahem.
21 March: At least two people killed and more than 20 injured in suspected suicide bomb attack in the centre of West Jerusalem.
22 March: Bomber kills himself and wounds an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint at Salem, on Israel's border with the West Bank.
26 March: Three injured in car bomb blast near a shopping centre in Jerusalem.
27 March: In the Israeli resort of Netanya, a bomber blows himself up at a hotel, killing 28 Israelis celebrating Passover.
29 March: A woman bomber kills herself and two others at a Jerusalem supermarket.
30 March: A suicide attack on a Tel Aviv restaurant leaves the bomber dead and 30 Israelis wounded.
31 March: Bomber attacks restaurant in Haifa, northern Israel, killing himself and 14 Israeli Jews and Arabs. On the same day, another bomber kills himself and wounds four people in an attack on an office for paramedics at the Jewish settlement of Efrat, south of Bethlehem.
The Israelis needed to act and so on March 29th 2002 they launched Operation Defensive Wall (Shield) in which the IDF entered the west bank and occupied Palestinians towns and cities so as to destroy Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. Soon Arafat was trapped in his head quarters confined to one wing and after heavy fighting some 4000 Palestinains were arrested across the west bank.
Hizbollah acting in support of the Palestinians immediately started to launch daily attacks against Israeli positions in the Shebaa farms sector in what can only be described as an attempted to open a second front. In a worrying development Palestinian guerrillas started launching Grad and Katusha missiles against Israel proper from south Lebanon, this was in breach of agreements established between Israel and Lebanon. Israel vowed a "cruel response" if Hizbollah and Palestinian attacks from Lebanon did not stop and blamed Syria for the escalation. Hizbollah attacks on Shebaa went on unabated and so on April 3, 2002 Syria began shifting some its occupation troops in Lebanon in an apparent bid to make them less of a target for any Israeli retaliation to attacks by Hizbollah. Most Syrian troops stationed in Mount Lebanon and along the coast were redeployed towards the Bekaa valley along the strategic Dahr el-Baidar mountain pass, 15 miles east of Beirut as stipulated in the Taif agreement. More incidents were reported of missiles striking Israel and so the Lebanese police moved to arrest those responsible.
On Thursday April 4 2002, three Palestinian guerrillas were caught in a car on the coastal road between the cities of Sidon and Tyre, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west of Chebaa Farms, with Grad rocket detonators in their possession. The Russian-made 120 mm Grad missiles have a firing range of up to 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) and so capable of hitting northern Israeli cities. The next day after Lebanese troops sent to south Lebanon to hunt Palestinian guerrillas seized a ready-to-fire katyusha rocket and after a fire fight arrested six armed Palestinians who were hiding in a cave at the southern edge of the Bekaa Valley, in the Rashaya area, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) northeast of the border. The Palestinians belonged to Ahmad Jibril's Syrian based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
In Beirut, Palestinians and communists started protests outside the US embassy in Awkar north of Beirut which soon turned into riots as the Palestinians and communists began to attack and stone Lebanese security forces after the latter tried to prevent the Palestinians from reaching the embassy compound. The scenes witnessed were similar to those of the late 1960s and 1970s when Palestinians and their allies confronted the Lebanese state.
The Invasion of Iraq
The issue of Iraq's disarmament reached a crisis in 2002-2003, when George W. Bush demanded a complete end to alleged Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction. Under United Nations actions regarding Iraq, in place since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was banned from developing or possessing such weapons. Bush repeatedly backed demands for disarmament with threats of invasion. The Bush administration began a military buildup in the region, and pushed for the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which brought weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei to Iraq.
Bush and Tony Blair met in the Portuguese Azores for an "emergency summit" over the weekend of March 15-16 2003, after which Bush declared that "diplomacy had failed", and stated his intentions to use military force to force Iraq to disarm in compliance with UN 1441.
The invasion of Iraq began on March 19, 2003, when forces belonging primarily to the United States and the United Kingdom invaded Iraq. Ground forces from Australia and Poland and naval forces from Australia, Denmark and Spain played minor supporting roles. After approximately three weeks of fighting, Iraq's Ba'athist government was toppled and the 2003 occupation of Iraq began. There was opposition to the invasion from many in the international community.
The start of hostilities came after the expiration of a 48-hour deadline which was set by U.S. President George W. Bush, demanding that Saddam Hussein and his two sons Uday and Qusay leave Iraq, ending the diplomatic Iraq disarmament crisis; see George W. Bush speech of March 17, 2003.
The US military operations in this war were conducted under the name of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The UK military operations in this war were conducted under the name of Operation Telic. The Australian code name was Operation Falconer.
250,000 United States troops, with support from approximately 45,000 British, 2,000 Australian and 200 Polish combat forces, entered Iraq primarily through their staging area in Kuwait. Plans for an invasion force from the north were abandoned when Turkey refused the use of its territory for such purposes. Coalition forces also supported Iraqi Kurdish militia troops, estimated to number upwards of 50,000. Included in these forces were groups of Australian SAS and commandos who performed Recon and combat search and rescue missions along side American and British Special Forces units.
On May 1, 2003 George W. Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, in a Lockheed S-3 Viking, where he gave a speech announcing the end of major combat operations in the Iraq war.
After the fall of Baghdad, U.S. officials claimed that Iraqi officials were being harbored in Syria, and several high-ranking Iraqis have since been detained after being expelled from Syria which by now had egg on its face. It was soon found that "major combat" being over did not mean that peace had returned to Iraq. The U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was marked by ongoing violent conflict between Arab insurgents and the allied forces. Most of the insurgents had crossed over the border from Syria and many of the early attacks against US forces were carried out by Syrian special forces.
Although Iraq was known to have pursued an active nuclear weapons development program previously, as well tried to procure materials and equipment for their manufacture, these weapons and material have yet to be discovered. This casts doubt on some of the accusations against Iraq, despite previous UN assertions that Iraq likely harbored such weapons, and that Iraq failed to document and give UN inspectors access to areas suspected of illegal weapons production. However, many experts believe that the weapons were moved into Syria and Lebanon just before the invasion.
To date, nothing has changed. The Syrians still occupy Lebanon. Hizbollah continues to attack Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms and Isreal retaliates with artillary and aircraft. The Lebanese Army has not deployed in the liberated regions of south Lebanon with security being handled by various armed militias, including those of Hizballah, Amal, and the SSNP.
In September 2004 Syria forced the extention of Emile Lahoud's term
in office by a further 3 years against the will of the Lebanese people.
Prime Minister Rafic Hariri resigned. Syria arranged the appointment of
the very pro-Syrian Omar Karami as the next Prime Minister. Fed up with
the Syria, the United States and France tabled a Resolution
against Syria. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution
1559 which calls on Syria to cease intervening in Lebanese internal
politics, withdraw from Lebanon, and for the disbanding of all Lebanese
militias. The resolution was adopted in 2 September 2004. Syria
dismissed it as trivial. The Lebanese opposition parties continue to
demand freedom for Lebanon and as the year 2004 drew to a close Walid
Jumblat switched sides, joined the opposition and became one of the
most outspoken critics of the occupation. Hariri also joined the
opposition but was not openly vocal leaving his strong ally Walid
Jumblat to complain about the Syrian occupaton.
Less than a month after he resigned his post to protest the Syrian-orchestrated extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate, former Minister Marwan Hamade was targeted by a car bomb that killed one of his companions and wounded him Friday morning 1st October 2004. At exactly 9:05 a.m., as Hamade was pulling out from his home in Manara, a Mercedes 300, stuffed with 10 kilograms of TNT right above the fuel tank, went off next to his car, killing his bodyguard and wounding Hamade and his driver.
Significantly, Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam was among Hamade's many visitors who rushed to the American University of Beirut Medical Center. The bombing was widely viewed as a warning to Hamade's more influential political ally, Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt. Jumblatt's recent positions against the extension and against Syrian-sponsored political interference and the grip of security services have placed him at odds with the authorities here and made him the target of political pressure.
Security camera footage of the man parking the car bomb mysteriously
vanished from an internal security safe and a man matching the
description of the bomber was found murdered. His body was dumped in
The opposition continued with its campaign to liberate Lebanon and
Jumblat became even more vocal in 2005 angering Syria. The head of the
party in Lebanon, Labour Minister Assem Qanso (Kanso, Kansou) verbally
attacked Jumblat "You will be crucified above the garbage dump of
history as a symbol of your ungratefulness, of your back-stabbing" and
warned, "You are not out of reach of our militants" and called Jumblatt
a "foreign spy". (Feb 3rd and 4th 2005, Daily Star, Nahar)
The Assassination of Rafic Hariri
Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a massive bomb blast that shredded
his motorcade in downtown Beirut opposite the St Georges Hotel as he
was returning home from a parliament meeting at 12:55 p.m. Monday
February 14th 2005. Hariri and six of his bodyguards were killed. The
total toll was 17 dead and 134 wounded. Hariri was planning to contest
Lebanon's spring parliamentary elections in alliance with opposition
groups demanding a termination of Syria's high-handed tutelage over
Lebanon. Hariri's murder, which explosive experts said was the work of
an intelligence service, came hardly 24 hours after the world community
was reported to have warned the Assad regime that Syria would be held
responsible if Hariri or Walid Jumblat are assassinated.
Explosive experts said that Hariri was killed by a one-ton charge
rigged into underground sewage or city water pipes that was
mechanically detonated once his motorcade was spotted passing over the
bomb. This explains why the sophisticated jamming systems installed in
Hariri's armor-plated limousines had failed to neutralize the bomb.
Ten days before the assassination a ditch was dug at the
assassination scene for underground public works repairs of the sewage
system. The 1,000 kilograms of explosives were then introduced via this
ditch into the water pipes under the street.
The people of Lebanon were in thrown into a state of shock and took
to the streets chanting slogans "Death to Syria" and "Syrians
out, we don't need you, we don't want you." Several Syrian-owned
businesses were ransacked and the Beirut headquarters of Syria's ruling
Baath Party branch in Lebanon was attacked and a huge portrait of the
late President Hafez Assad was torn off the building and set on
fire at the city's Cola residential district. The building was then
pelted with stones and shacks outside used by Syrian workers ere
set alight. In other parts of west Beirut Syrians were beaten. The
strongest condemnation of the killing came from Hariri's hometown
of Sidon, where angry demonstrators blocked roads with barricades of
burning tires sending billows of black smoke rising into the air.
Demonstrators chanted slogans against Syria and the pro-Damascus
Lebanese government, including: "Bashar Assad, what do you want from
us? Take your soldiers and leave," and "We will not fear speaking out.
We don't want Emile Lahoud." Demonstrators also carried banners
reading: "They assassinated you because you were the hope of this
country." Venting their frustration and rage at the closest target,
dozens of demonstrators attacked Syrian workers, lightly wounding five
before police intervened. A group of youths with their hands and faces
painted black shouted: "Syria, you have painted our days in black.
Letting Karami laugh and letting Lahoud remain sitting on his chair, is
the biggest crime." In Akkar, Hariri supporters expressed their grief
by burning tires on the main roads in Abdeh, Bourj al-Arab and other
areas. Black flags were also raised at the Abdeh Roundabout at the
southern entrance of Akkar and on Hariri's Future Movement center in
Halba. In Tripoli and other northern areas, black and Lebanese flags
were raised alongside pictures of Hariri and countless banners.
Demonstraters blocked roads leading to Syria.
The opposition called for a
three day strike. All government departments were closed as well as
Banks, schools, universities, shops, boutiques, cafes and cinemas in
Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Nabatiyeh, Baalbek, Zahleh and Tripoli as well as
the entire Christian heartland north and northeast of the capital. The
strike was blessed by Sheikh Rashid Kabbani, the spiritual head of the
Muslim Sunni community of which Hariri was its political
standard-bearer. Kabbani said after an emergency conference of
Lebanon's Sunni notables Monday night that Hariri's assassination
"targeted Lebanon's existence." Night-long protest demonstrations in
Beirut and throughout Tuesday. Across the globe candle light vigils
were held outside Lebanese Embassies by Lebanese of all faiths. Late
Tuesday, a large crowd gathered at the assassination site with hundreds
of lit candles and silence to commemorate a beloved leader. In the
Bekaa, Baalbek bore witness to a massive demonstration staged outside
the Serail. Demonstrators carried pictures of Hariri and raised black
flags, condemning the assassination and calling for exposing the
A tearful Lebanon gave slain ex-premier Rafik Hariri a national union farewell Wednesday. Church bells rang in blended unison with verses of the Koran rhymed out from Mosque minarets as an estimated one million mourners of all faiths walked behind his flag-draped coffin to the last resting place. Thunderous chants of "Syria out" and "death to Syria" echoed from the anguished mourners as they waved a forest of Lebanese flags and huge portraits of the fallen statesman. There were also chants against Syrian President Bashar Assad in person. "Bashar, Bashar, Sunni blood does not go to waste," a sea of mourners shouted, pledging allegiance to Hariri's eldest son, Bahaeddine (Baha). The chants reflected the conviction of Hariri's family and Lebanon's opposition leaders that Syria's secret service engineered his assassination in collaboration with the state-run Lebanese intelligence apparatus, a contention shared by the U.S., France and the U.N. Security Council.
Hariri's coffin was mounted on
an ambulance top as the funeral procession wound through the streets of
Beirut with thousands of candles burning on sidewalks. His casket was
followed by the six coffins of the bodyguards who were killed with him
in the assassination blast on Monday. Wailing women on balconies tossed
roses at the procession. Midway through the six kilometer procession
the coffins were taken off the ambulances and carried shoulder-high
through the rest of the trek to the courtyard of the downtown Al Amin
mosque. Senior government officials from across the world walked behind
the coffins in the on-foot funeral from which President Lahoud, Premier
Karami and most of the 30 cabinet ministers of his government were
excluded at the request of Hariri's family, which blamed the "regime of
assassins" for his death.
When the procession reached the
downtown mosque, farewell chants reached a thunderous crescendo. His
son Baha, the political heir apparent, got onto the shoulders of
supporters to plead with the crowd for calm so as the Muslim last rites
be performed to allow his father's coffin be lowered into the
The Security Council called for
an urgent report from the U.N. secretary-general on the "circumstances,
causes and consequences" of the assassination of ex-Premier Rafik
Hariri, and the United States demanded the immediate withdrawal of
Syrian troops from Lebanon.
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