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PLO in Lebanon: excerpt

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Submitted by Dana (United States), Nov 16, 2022 at 09:33

[https://books.google.com/books?id=CrHvCwAAQBAJ&pg=PT8]

Russell, L. E., Katz, S. (2012). Armies in Lebanon 1982-84. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.

First Chapter, 'Background to Chaos'

[...]

On the evening of Thursday 3 June 1982, four Palestinian gunmen critically wounded Mr Shlomo Argov, Israel's ambassador in London, as he left a diplomatic reception at the Dorchester Hotel. Although this incident was to be the immediate cause of Israel's war in Lebanon, the roots of the conflict went back many years...

The PLO in Lebanon

In 1948, following the creation of the State of Israel, some 400,000 Palestinian "refugees" crossed the border north into Lebanon. There, for more than 20 years, they lived in squalid refugee camps in southern Lebanon, and in a chain of ramshackle suburbs near Beirut.

In 1968 the Lebanese capital became the headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the umbrella organisation for more than 11 different political factions dedicated to the overthrow of the State of Israel.

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat found Lebanon an excellent base for operations, both against Israel itself and Israeli and international targets abroad. In southern Lebanon, the PLO set up large and effective bases from which to carry out operations across the border into Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces retaliated with land, sea and air attacks on these PLO bases.

The PLO presence, and the Israeli military response it attracted, put a strain on the weak Lebanese government and the fragile political alliances it represented.

In November 1969 Egypt's President Nasser forced the Lebanese to sign the Cairo and Melkart Accords, granting the PLO virtual autonomy in the "refugee" camps and along the 'combat front' with Israel. Following the events of 'Black September' 1970, when King Hussein's Bedouin army violently ejected the entire PLO infrastructure from Jordan, Lebanon became the only Arab country bordering Israel where the armed struggle could be continued.
A further 150,000 Palestinian "refugees" arrived, along with thousands of PLO guerrillas, further upsetting the delicate balance of power in the country.

The weakness of the Lebanese central government alarmed both Christian and Muslim political parties, who began to form private militias to look after their interests.

For their part, the PLO seized control of virtually all of southern Lebanon. The PLO fighters—bored, angry, heavily armed, and answerable to no one but their local commanders—instituted a virtual reign of terror against the civilian population under their control. Thousands of Lebanese were robbed, raped, tortured or killed. While many of the victims were Christians, the PLO did not spare their co-religionists, and Muslims (especially Shia Muslims) provided the majority of the victims. At the same time, in defiance of their obligations under the Cairo Accords, the PLO began to strengthen its ties with leftist Lebanese Muslim political fartions, hoping to destabilise the Lebanese government still further.

On 13 April 1975, in the midst of this explosive atmosphere, a busload of PLO gunmen opened fire on a church in the Christian Ain Rammanah section of Beirut. Pierre Gemayel, leader of tbe Christian Phalange Party and one of the most powerful men in Maronite Lebanon, was present for a family baptism. His bodyguard returned fire, and the lighting escalated. The next day all hell broke loose in Lebanon.

The Lebanese Civil War, 1975–76

The Lebanese Civil War of 1975–76 caused 80,000 dead, and totally split the country along factional lines.

The peace which had existed for centuries between Muslim and Christian was destroyed. Christian fought Muslim, Christian fought Christian, and Muslim fought Muslim. An estimated 50 different 'militias' came into existence, and acts of violence were both individual and collective.

In Beirut, where the worst of the fighting took place, rooftop snipers shot pedestrians at random. Gunmen set up checkpoints to examine the papers of passing motorists, and anyone of the 'wrong' religion or political affiliation was killed out of hand. Battles were fought with unheard-of savagery, with prisoners saved only for torture, mutilation and death.

In January 1976 PLO units attacked the Christian city of Damour on the main highwav south of Beirut. A quarter of its population of 40,000 were killed in the battle or massacred afterwards, and the remainder forced to flee. In revenge, in October 1976 the Christian militias laid siege to the Tel Zaatar refugee camp north of Beirut for 50 days. When the camp fell, no quarter was given to the survivors, and the slaughter rivalled that of Damour.

By then the Christians, initially confident, were in trouble: the Palestinians had formed an alliance with other Muslim factions, and obtained the support of the Druze, the stubborn mountain people who had given the French repeated problems in the days of the Mandate.

The PLO-leftist Muslim-Druze alliance was too much for the Christian forces to handle and, in 1976, they gave tacit support to a Syrian and Lebanese plan to end the fighting by granting concessions to the Muslims.

The PLO refused to go along with the plan, however, hoping to achieve their own national state, or at the very least to gain total control of south Lebanon. As the war entered its second year, the desperate Christian leadership began to consider approaching the only power in the region capable of ensuring their survival: the State of Israel.

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