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History, War in Lebanon

Elias Hrawi, Rene Moawad, car bombings, UNIFIL, commando raids

The Lebanese Civil War began on April 13, 1975, with a strike and counterstrike: gunmen attacked Christian Phalangists (members of the Kataib faction) at a Beirut church, killing several, and hours later, Phalangists ambushed a busload of Palestinians, killing 27. Months of brutal battles followed, prompting military intervention by Syria. The fighting began to calm and a cease-fire in November 1976 yielded a lull. However, PLO attacks on northern Israel continued, bringing Israeli reprisals in Lebanon. A heavy strike by PLO fedayeen produced an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in March 1978. During the invasion, Israel created a self-proclaimed security zone on the southern border of Lebanon, which was manned by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), a Lebanese militia sympathetic to Israel. After three months, most of the Israeli troops withdrew. To help reduce attacks in the area, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was deployed in the southern part of the country. Between 1980 and 1982, fighting became rampant in Beirut again, with vicious militia wars, car bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations. Aiming to pacify the Palestinians and punish Lebanon for hosting them, Israel launched “Operation Peace for Galilee,” a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, in June 1982. Israel pushed north to Beirut forcing a PLO retreat. Through international mediation, thousands of PLO troops and Syrians were evacuated from Beirut and Tripoli by sea in August, and a multinational force made up of U.S., French, British, and Italian troops tried to stabilize the situation. Nearly 18,000 Lebanese, in addition to many Palestinians and Syrians, were killed in the Israeli invasion.

In mid-September 1982 the president-elect, Kataib leader Bashir Gemayel (Jumayyil), was assassinated and replaced by his brother, Amin. Fighting continued sporadically, and in October 1983 more than 300 U.S. and French troops were killed by a truck bomb in Beirut. The bombing prompted the multinational force to withdraw. With the international force gone, an assault by mainly Kataib forces, with indirect Israeli agreement and direct logistical aid, led to the massacre of more than 800 civilians in the Sabra-Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. Violence continued from 1983 to 1985, and a second multinational force returned for six months. In June 1985 Israel withdrew most of its 1983 invasion forces, again leaving a small occupying force in the south. Palestinians making commando raids on northern Israel were joined and later replaced by a new extremist group, Hezbollah (Party of God), which enjoyed Iranian support and Syrian approval.

Although violent fighting generally eased between 1986 and 1988, hostage-taking amid near-anarchy became commonplace. In 1989 the most brutal infighting of the war pitted former allies, Kataib commander Samir Geagea (Jaja) and army general Michel Aoun, in savage artillery duels in Beirut. Aoun then brought further destruction and death in a “war of liberation” to eject Syrian forces from Lebanon. The beginning of the end of the war came when Lebanon’s parliamentarians met in AtTa’if, Saudi Arabia, from September 30 through October 22, 1989. There they reached the Ta’if Agreement for a National Reconciliation Charter, which was formally approved on November 4. They also elected a new president, Rene Moawad, who was assassinated 17 days later and replaced by Elias Hrawi. The unbending Aoun resumed last-ditch fighting against Geagea and the Syrians until October 13, 1990, when he was ousted. The fighting was over. The new Government of National Reconciliation began the delicate task of disarming the militias and restoring stability. In a decade and a half of war, an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 people were killed, at least that many were wounded, and the country suffered an estimated $25 billion to $30 billion in damage and lost revenues.

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