Lebanese Civil War - blood spills in the streets of Beirut as bitter fighting between the Maronite Christian ruling minority and Islamic elements escalates in the early stages of a bitter and divisive conflict that will last until 1990
In the early 1970s, difficulties arose in Lebanon over the presence of Palestinian refugees, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and "Black September" 1970 hostilities in Jordan. Among the latter were Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense.
The spark that ignited the civil war in Lebanon occurred in Beirut on April 13, 1975, when gunmen killed four Phalangists during an attempt on Pierre Jumayyil's life. Perhaps believing the assassins to have been Palestinian, the Phalangists retaliated later that day by attacking a bus carrying Palestinian passengers across a Christian neighborhood, killing about twenty-six of the occupants. The next day fighting erupted in earnest, with Phalangists pitted against Palestinian militiamen. Most Beirutis stayed inside their homes during these early days of battle, and few imagined that the street fighting they were witnessing was the beginning of a war that was to devastate their city and divide the country.
Despite the urgent need to control the fighting, the political machinery of the government became paralyzed over the next few months. The inadequacies of the political system reappeared more clearly than ever. For many observers, at the bottom of the conflict was the issue of balance--with a minority, specifically the Maronites, refusing to share power and economic opportunity with the Muslim majority.
The government could not act effectively because leaders were unable to agree on whether or not to use the army to stop the bloodletting. As various groups took sides, the fighting spread to other areas of the country, forcing residents in towns with mixed sectarian populations to seek safety in regions where their sect was dominant. Even so, the militias became embroiled in a pattern of attack followed by retaliation, including acts against uninvolved civilians.
By the end of 1975, no side held a decisive military advantage, but it was generally acknowledged that the Lebanese Front (Christian Maronites and allied groups) had done less well than expected against the disorganized Lebanese National Movement (leftist militias and PLO elements).
The political hierarchy was still incapable of maintaining peace, except for occasional, short-lived cease-fires. Reform was discussed, but little headway was made toward any significant improvements. Syria, which was deeply concerned about the flow of events in Lebanon, also proved powerless to enforce calm through diplomatic means. And, most ominous of all, the Lebanese Army, which generally had stayed out of the strife, began to show signs of factionalizing and threatened to bring its heavy weaponry to bear on the conflict.
In January 1976 the Lebanese Front began a siege of Tall Zatar, a densely populated Palestinian refugee camp in East Beirut; while the Lebanese Front also overran and leveled Karantina, a Muslim quarter in East Beirut. These actions finally brought the main forces of the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), into the battle. Together, the PLA and the Lebanese National Movement took the town of Ad Damur, a Shamun stronghold about seventeen kilometers south of Beirut.
Despite a short-lived ceasefire, in February dissident Muslim troops, led by Lieutenant Ahmad Khatib, mutinied, creating the Lebanese Arab Army. Joining the Lebanese National Movement, they made significant penetrations into Christian-held Beirut and launched an attack on the presidential palace, forcing president Franjiyah to flee to Mount Lebanon.
As Lebanese Front fortunes declined, two outcomes seemed likely: the establishment in Mount Lebanon of an independent Christian state, viewed as a "second Israel" by some; or, if the Lebanese National Movement won the war, the creation of a radical, hostile state on Syria's western border. Neither of these possibilities was viewed as acceptable to Syrian president Assad. To prevent either scenario, at the end of May 1976 Syria intervened militarily against the Lebanese National Movement, hoping to end the fighting swiftly.
This decision, however, proved ill conceived, as Syrian forces met heavy resistance and suffered many casualties. Moreover, by entering the conflict on the Christian side Syria provoked outrage from much of the Arab world. Despite, or perhaps as a result of, these military and diplomatic failures, in late July Syria decided to quell the resistance. A drive was launched against Lebanese National Movement strongholds that was far more successful than earlier battles; within two weeks the opposition was almost subdued. Rather than crush the resistance altogether, at this time Syria chose to participate in an Arab peace conference held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on October 16, 1976.
The Riyadh Conference, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo also in October 1976, formally ended the Lebanese Civil War; although the underlying causes were in no way eliminated, the fullscale warfare stopped.
After more than one and one-half years of devastation, relative calm returned to Lebanon, although sporadic outbreaks of intense violece would continue to erupt. .Although the exact cost of the war will never be known, deaths may have approached 44,000, with about 180,000 wounded; many thousands of others were displaced or left homeless, or had migrated. Much of the once-magnificent city of Beirut was reduced to rubble and the town divided into Muslim and Christian sectors, separated by the so-called Green Line.