Sanctuary and Survival:
The PLO in Lebanon
Boulder: Westview Press, 1990
by Rex Brynen
4) The Lebanese Civil War (1975-76)
The more than five years immediately following the Cairo Agreement had clearly indicated the serious challenges confronted by the PLO in Lebanon. Internal and external alliances, guerrilla self-restraint and communicatibon with the authorities and Lebanese conservatives had, it was true, enabled the PLO to maintain the freedom of action it had first won in 1969. The first two of these strategies, coupled with the military defense of refugee camps and fida'iyyin positions, had also enabled the Palestinian movement to emerge intact from its May 1973 conflict with the Lebanese Army. Yet none of this had really aborted the growing challenges posed to the PLO by either Israel or by the Palestinians' Lebanese opponents.
Moreover, PLO policy itself was beset by increasingly serious contradictions. Caught up in both the polemics and dynamics of broader issues of Palestinian politics, the PLO's strategy of restraint was imperfectly applied at best. Despite reiteration of the strategy in the Milkart Protocols, restrictions on fida'iyyin activities were honored as often in the breach as the observance. The PLO's strategy of communication had faded in the wake of the May 1973 crisis as political polarization in Lebanon made dialogue ever less fruitful. Growing levels of inter-Arab conflict aggravated the Lebanese situation and complicated the PLO's external alliances. The PLO's internal alliance with the Lebanese National Movement remained strong, but at the cost of further alienating the Lebanese right. Finally, the PLO's adoption of a strategy of defense had a similar effect. Military preparations made by the PLO to assure the safety of the refugee camps and deter further attacks upon them enhanced the Palestinians' immediate security, but at the cost of stoking the already potent powderkeg of Lebanese domestic politics.
In fact, the spark which was to ignite Lebanon's explosive and polarized situation would come a scant seven weeks after the first clashes at Sidon. On 13 April 1975, an altercation between a fida'i motorist and Phalangist militiamen in the predominately Christian 'Ayn al-Rummana district of Beirut was followed by an attack by unknown gunmen on a local church in which Pierre al-Jumayyil was attending services. Jumayyil's bodyguard and two other Phalangists were killed in the exchange of gunfire. A short while later a bus returning from a guerrilla rally at Tall al-Za'tar passed through 'Ayn al-Rummana on its way to the Sabra refugee camp. Phalangists ambushed the bus, killing twenty-seven of its Palestinian and Lebanese passengers and wounding nineteen others.1 As news of the attack spread through the capital, fighting erupted between the Phalange on the one hand and the fida'iyyin and their National Movement supporters on the other-marking the start of what was to become the Lebanese civil war.2
The Opening Rounds, April-December 1975
As the number of casualties produced by the fighting climbed to more than three hundred in the next three days, the PLO's Lebanese allies rapidly moved to its support. On April 15 the National Movement leadership met in an emergency session and endorsed a 10-point statement drawn up by Junblat which placed full blame for the incidents on the Phalange. It further called for the disbandment of the party, and punishment of those of its members responsible for the 'Ayn al-Rummana attack. These demands were later endorsed by the Arab Front for Participating in the Palestinian Revolution (and hence by the PLO) on April 26, which added to them a call for a political boycott of the Kata'ib throughout the Arab world. The Phalange responded by denying that it harbored any hostility towards the Palestinian movement, asserting instead that it was fighting leftist subversion, a "small and corrupt group that is supported by foreign Arab or international organizations [and] entrusted with a sabotage mission."3
Despite its Palestinian beginnings, the military and political crisis which developed in the aftermath of the 'Ayn al-Rummana attack soon assumed a predominately Lebanese character as the country's socio-economic and political contradictions made themselves felt. Junblat's call for the isolation and proscription of the Phalange was a catalyst for this, with his declaration of a political boycott against the Kata'ib having the effect of provoking a major cabinet crisis. On May 7 two Phalange and three LNP ministers resigned. One week later Prime Minister al-Sulh tendered his resignation, complaining of deliberate Phalangist provocations. Franjiyya responded with the appointment of a military government headed by a Sunni reserve army general, Brigadier Nur al-Din Rifa'i. For the National Movement a military government was anathema. The PLO was unhappy too, as was Syria. The traditional Sunni political leadership saw the move as a direct challenge to their position and power. Not surprisingly, the Rifa'i cabinet collapsed within three days. Veteran politician Rashid Karami was called in to form a replacement. After weeks of difficult negotiations this was finally achieved by July 1.
Karami avoided the thorny question of the boycott by including Camille Chamoun in his new government (as Minister of the Interior), but not representatives of the Phalange or Junblat's parliamentary bloc. Excluded from power, the National Movement leader unveiled a new five-point program of social and political reforms in July. Subsequently adopted by the National Movement as a whole, the program called for the complete deconfessionalization of the Lebanese system.
Throughout this process, political developments had been punctuated by bouts of intermittent fighting. A ceasefire concluded April 16 gradually brought an end to the first wave of clashes that month, only to have them re-ignite in late May in fighting between rightist forces in al-Dikwana and the Palestinians of Tall al-Za'tar, and then between National Movement forces in Beirut's (largely Shi'i) Shiyah quarter and opposing militias in neighboring 'Ayn al-Rummana. After this round came a lull of several weeks, after which time small incidents sparked clashes around Zahla in late August, followed by heavy fighting in 'Akkar and around Tripoli and Zgharta in the north of the country. The latter-in the home districts of the Prime Minister and President respectively-soon led to calls from Franjiyya and Chamoun for army intervention, a move Karami opposed while Ghanim remained army commander. Franjiyya finally replaced Ghanim with General Hanna Sa'id, and on September 11 the army moved to occupy positions between the combatants in the north.
The use of the army was bitterly opposed by the Lebanese National Movement, which had little confidence in its impartiality. Junblat called, and then called off, a general strike in protest. The PLO, while accepting army intervention in Tripoli, was equally opposed to its intervention in Beirut. 'Arafat reportedly told Lebanese government leaders that such intervention would lead to clashes between the armed forces and some Palestinian groups.4 Karami also opposed army deployment in the capital.
The Phalange, on the other hand, pressed hard to have the military's role expanded. When political pressure failed, other steps were taken to force Karami's hand. Two days after renewed clashes had erupted in the Shiyah-'Ayn al-Rummana area on September 15, Phalange artillery began a severe bombardment of the commercial areas of downtown Beirut. The pace of the fighting escalated throughout the capital.
Amid repeated ceasefires which slowed but did not halt the shooting, a National Dialogue Committee was formed September 25 to seek ways of ending the strife. However the Committee, consisting of twenty leading Lebanese political figures (including Junblat, Jumayyil, Salam, Chamoun and Eddé), made little progress. Instead, Lebanon was treated to yet another resurgence of combat, first in Beirut and then in Zahla to the east and Damur to the south. A ceasefire and formation on November 3 of a Higher Coordinating Committee to oversee it brought a few weeks of relative calm. But this was shattered in December when the massacre of two hundred Muslim civilians ("Black Saturday") provoked a generally successful Beirut counter offensive by National Movement forces.
Regional Dimensions of the Conflict
While internal contradictions provided the major motive force for the continuing crisis in Lebanon, the civil war could not be isolated either from the Palestinian presence, or from regional developments. With the conclusion of the Sinai II disengagement treaty between Israel and Egypt in September 1975, inter-Arab tensions aggravated the Lebanese situation. Egyptian-Syrian estrangement and Egyptian-PLO hostility arising from the accord led Cairo to extend political and military support to the rightist parties during the first phase of the civil war. Other conservative Arab regimes, notably Jordan and Saudi Arabia, provided similar aid in an effort to contain what they saw as Palestinian and Lebanese radicalism. Iraq and Libya granted support to the PLO and Lebanese leftist parties, with emphasis on the organizations of the Rejection Front and their Lebanese allies.
An even more important actor on the side of the PLO and National Movement at this stage was Syria, whose interest in Lebanese developments was considerable. Syria had special historical ties with Lebanon, and ideologically was pledged to promote the Arab nationalist cause and the Palestinian liberation struggle. Moreover, Lebanon was (and is) of very grave strategic importance to Syria, representing, via the Biqa' Valley, a gateway to Damascus. A hostile, or Israeli-dominated Lebanon would be a disaster. A neutralist Lebanon, or one which suppressed Palestinian guerrilla activity, would increase the pressure on the Syrian front. A chaotic or revolutionary Lebanon would be a constant source of instability, an unreliable ally, and a constant invitation to Israeli intervention. The possibility of Lebanon's partition into conservative/pro-Israeli/Christian and radical/nationalist/Muslim statelets threatened the worst of all cases. If Syria had an important interest in promoting its friends within the Lebanese National Movement and undermining the position of the (anti-Syrian) Lebanese right, it had an even greater interest in dampening the conflict and preserving stability on its western border. Indeed, Damascus and its allies saw in the growing turmoil in Lebanon a deliberate attempt to sap its energies and weaken Syria's strategic position. Zuhayr Muhsin of al-Sa'iqa, for example, linked Lebanese developments to the recent conclusion of the Sinai II disengagement agreement:
What is happening in Lebanon today is closely and directly linked to what is happening in the Sinai: there can be no doubt that, but for the Sinai agreement, the situation would not have exploded in Lebanon. The proof is that the incidents in Lebanon certainly started to escalate with the stepping up of Kissinger's visits to the Middle East. The intention was that the incidents should act as a cover for the agreement, and so that the Arab and Palestinian masses should be unable to express their rejection of the agreement. They were also intended to distract the attention of Syria and the PLO from the steps that were being taken towards the conclusion of the Sinai agreement.5
Consequently, Damascus extended material support to the PLO and some National Movement organizations after April 1975, and initiated a major political initiative to contain the conflict. Syrian Foreign Minister 'Abd al-Halim Khaddam and National Security Director and Air Force commander Naji Jamil traveled to Beirut on May 24, at which time they played a significant role in resolving the Lebanese cabinet crisis. Khaddam visited again in late June (when he played a major part in the formation of Karami's cabinet), and in September (when he and Syrian Chief-of-Staff Hikmat Shihabi helped to achieve a ceasefire and the formation of the National Dialogue Committee).6
For the Palestinian leadership, the fighting in Lebanon also produced fears that a conspiracy was being hatched, that a trap was in the making. In this view, 'Ayn al-Rummana had marked the beginning of an attempt to (at minimum) divert the Palestinian resistance into side battles away from its liberation struggle, (probably) related to the concurrent diplomatic machinations of Henry Kissinger, and (at worst) part of a complex plot to liquidate the Palestinian movement altogether with the aid of the Lebanese rightist parties. The provocative nature of the 'Ayn al-Rummana attack, the escalatory nature of subsequent Phalangist actions, and the support the rightist parties were receiving from the conservative Arab states, the US, and Israel all seemed to confirm the analysis.7
While in their alarm Palestinian leaders may have exaggerated the conspiratorial nature of the Lebanese conflict, there could be no question that Israel had a major interest in events to the north. Fighting in Lebanon increasingly diverted Syrian and PLO attention away from confrontation with Israel. The sectarian dimension of the conflict also discredited the PLO's cherished notion of a non-sectarian Palestine, and provided an opening for the establishment of important Israeli contacts with the major Lebanese Christian parties. With so much to gain and little to lose, Israeli intervention in Lebanon expanded both quantitatively and qualitatively. Four major attacks were launched in south Lebanon in the latter half of 1975, despite a reduction in the number of Palestinian cross-border raids as the civil war progressed. Israeli violations of Lebanese territory rose to an average rate of 17 incidents per day (January-August 1975). At this time too, Israel began to establish covert links with, and provide covert assistance to, the PLO's Lebanese opponents-first Chamoun and the LNP, and later the Phalange and other rightist parties.8
On the principle of avoiding entrapment, all major Palestinian organizations could agree: none viewed with relish the possibility of becoming entangled in a Lebanese civil war. There was clear agreement too on defending the Palestinian position in Lebanon, both in terms of the physical security of the camps and the maintenance of the PLO's acquired Cairo Agreement rights; and on maintaining ties to the Lebanese National Movement so as to facilitate such aims. But beyond this, substantial differences emerged among the various Palestinian movements as to the weight that should be placed on these various elements, and how overall security might best be achieved. Could (and should) the PLO respond to what appeared to be blatant provocations without escalating the situation to a dangerous level? Conversely, might not PLO self-restraint be viewed as weakness, and hence invite even greater challenges to the Palestinian presence? How could the Palestinians disentangle themselves on the one hand, and maintain their strategic alliance with the National Movement on the other? The choices were difficult ones.
For the bulk of the Fateh leadership, the answer seemed to be a combination of several policies: communication and dialogue with relevant Lebanese parties, in the hope of thereby allaying Phalangist fears of a "Palestinian threat"; restraint of (potentially provocative) Palestinian actions and reactions, so as to achieve a de-escalation of both the political and military dimensions of the conflict; continued coordination with the PLO's major external allies, especially Syria; and military defense of Palestinian positions. At the same time the PLO maintained what had become since 1969 the most important aspect of its Lebanese policy: its strategic internal alliance with Junblat and the Lebanese National Movement.
The extent and rationale of the first two elements of Palestinian policy were clearly elucidated by Fateh's Nabil Sha'th early in the civil war:
Among the most prominent lessons of the recent events is the fact that we have discovered that there is a kind of "estrangement" between many Lebanese and Palestinians. There are large groups that do not know the truth about the problems of the Palestinians. There is a large number of Palestinians who are in need of a deeper knowledge of the Lebanese reality. The Palestinian revolution recognizes that it exists for all the Lebanese and not for a group of them. It has to operate on this basis.
A "serious candid dialogue with the different parties in Lebanon"-not simply the Islamic and progressive parties-was thus necessary. Sha'th went on to note that the Palestinian movement recognized its responsibility in "controlling the behavior and conduct of its members [and of] Palestinians who are under its protection on Lebanese territory," and he promised that the PLO would "intensify our measures against violators and saboteurs who exploit the revolution for their own ends." By the same token, however, the PLO's Lebanese critics had to accept the reality of the Palestinian presence and the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle being waged in and from Lebanon.9
To this end, Salah Khalaf and Nimr Salih (Abu Salih) of the Fateh Central Committee met with then Prime Minister al-Sulh a few days after the 'Ayn al-Rummana attack to discuss how escalation might best be avoided. The meeting ended with an agreement between the two sides on joint action by PASC and the Lebanese security forces to prevent "provocative acts by extremists."10 In fact, PASC patrols had already been bolstered for precisely this purpose. In early May, a second meeting between a PLO delegation (Khalaf, Muhsin, Hawatima) and al-Sulh resulted in the formation of a joint Lebanese-Palestinian committee to negotiate outstanding matters of concern. In June, the PLO announced the formation of a special tribunal to deal with violations of guerrilla discipline. The PLO was an active participant in the various ceasefire negotiations which accompanied each bout of fighting, and was formally represented on the Higher Coordinating Committee. In some cases-notably during the fighting in the north in the fall-Fateh, Sa'iqa, and PLA troops took an active part in policing whatever agreements were concluded.11
During this phase of the civil war the PLO leadership also used its remaining lines of communication to the Maronite leadership in an attempt to (in Khalaf's words) "exorcise the demons of the Lebanese right" regarding the Palestinian presence. Open negotiations with the major rightist party, the Phalange, were all but impossible at this stage given the PLO's endorsement of Junblat's call for the party's proscription and grass-roots anger over the 'Ayn al-Rummana attack within the PLO and LNM.12 It was still possible to hold discussions with others, however, and 'Arafat and Khalaf met with Camille Chamoun and with Maronite religious leaders several times in the spring and summer of 1975.
Palestinian leaders also held a long meeting with President Franjiyya on June 23. According to Khalaf's account of events, Franjiyya began the meeting by criticizing the Palestinian movement for "intolerable behavior" in Lebanon, for allying itself with the Lebanese left, and for alienating a significant portion of Lebanese opinion by supporting Junblat's call for a boycott of the Phalange. To this the PLO delegation responded as best it could, apologizing for the "reprehensible" activities of some individual Palestinian elements, and emphasizing that the Palestinians "had just as much at stake as the Lebanese themselves in the well-being of Lebanon and the harmonious coexistence of Palestinians and Lebanese." The two sides agreed to establish joint military committees to halt the fighting, and to oppose external Arab attempts to mediate the conflict. The PLO undertook to "use its influence to tone down the National Movement and encourage it to reduce its pressure against the Phalangist party." Finally, 'Arafat undertook to deliver an address to the Lebanese people outlining the PLO's commitment "not to jeopardize the confessional, political, or economic structures of Lebanon."13
On June 29 'Arafat's statement was broadcast on Lebanese radio and television. At its core was a strong assertion of the principle of Palestinian non-interference in Lebanese internal affairs:
The Palestinian resistance in Lebanon is not a political clique affiliated to any specific quarter, nor does it wish to be.
The Palestinian resistance is not a party to the internal affairs of Lebanon, nor does it wish to be so.
The Palestinian resistance in Lebanon is neither a confessional group nor does it wish to be so.
The stability of Lebanon is the stability of the Palestinian revolution.14
Similar themes were evident in a memorandum submitted by the PLO Executive Committee to the National Dialogue Committee on October 14. In it the Palestinian leadership made note of five points which, in its view, were "essential for the maintenance of Lebanese-Palestinian fraternal relations and for ensuring the solutions of the problems which beset them." These were: first, rejection of "any country as a substitute for the occupied Palestinian homeland," (i.e., no permanent Palestinian settlement in Lebanon, a perennial fear of the Christian right); second, rejection of "any nationality or political identity that may be offered as a substitute for their Palestinian nationality"; third, reaffirmation of the PLO's "concern for the security, stability and sovereignty of Lebanon, for its territorial integrity and the unity of its people, with all that this involves in the way of the state's right to exercise its authority over all parts of Lebanon"; fourth, reaffirmation of "the agreements concluded between the Lebanese state and the Palestine Liberation Organization as being the formula that governs Lebanese-Palestinian relations and the basis for resolving any problems or complications"; and fifth, support for a "commitment of all parties to rule out the use of force as a means of dealing with Lebanese-Palestinian relations."15
At this point, PLO efforts to stabilize the Lebanese situation ran parallel to those of Syria-a situation evident in the participation of al-Sa'iqa in policing the ceasefires, and Zuhayr Muhsin's prominence in joint Palestinian-Lebanese discussions. Since the PLO and Syria both shared a further common desire to prevent the "Arabization" of the civil war, the two jointly boycotted an Arab League conference called to discuss Lebanon in October. Syria also provided the Palestinians with material assistance, including arms and ammunition.
The PLO's external alliance thus also bolstered its ability to pursue a policy of defense. The need for such a posture was underlined both by the scale of the civil war and by the threats made against the Palestinians by some rightist militia commanders. Heavy weapons and fighters were deployed in defense of the camps. In his capacity as head of the PLO Military Department, Zuhayr Muhsin vowed that the PLO would "deal a double blow" against anyone who attacked it. At the same time, however, Fateh and Sa'iqa generally refrained from committing their large military forces to the fighting, other than to protect Palestinian positions or rescue endangered National Movement units. According to Muhsin, "[Palestinian forces] have not yet thrown their main strength into these engagements," although "this does not mean that they have not given some assistance to their supporters when they have been defending themselves." He warned that were the Palestinians to throw their full military weight into the fray, the Phalange would be finished off in twenty-four hours.16
Finally, there was the question of relations with Junblat and the LNM. As had been promised Franjiyya in June, the PLO sought to secure some political and military restraint from its National Movement allies. Indeed, many in the National Movement had seen the PLO Chairman's subsequent public statements as a partial retreat from the PLO's ties to the LNM. Further efforts to moderate LNM behavior were apparent in September, when 'Arafat played a significant role in having Junblat call off his proposed general strike. Later the Lebanese leader was to complain that the PLO (and even more so Syria) kept back National Movement arms shipments so as to lessen the level of military conflict:
Delivery of our weapons and munitions stockpiled in Syria was tightly controlled and we were systematically denied access to heavy weapons, thereby making us dependent upon the Palestinians who, in turn, acted in concert with the Syrians. Furthermore, the weapons we were supposed to receive were often requisitioned by our Palestinian friends and allies in Fateh while in transit through Lebanon. These "confiscations" were always carried out secretly and without warning. Each time the theft was revealed, a thousand excuses were proffered, but the shipments never arrived for all that, or at least never arrived intact. There was a sort of tacit understanding between the Syrian Ba'th, certain senior Palestinian leaders, and perhaps some others: firstly, never to allow the [PSP] to become a real military force and an independent or determinant element in the war; secondly, never to supply the parties allied to us, especially the left[ist] parties, with sufficient weapons to become militarily effective.17
Yet the PLO's internal alliance with the National Movement did continue, and despite Junblat's comments, the PLO did supplement its political support and coordination with some military assistance. In keeping with the PLO's attempts to quiet the Lebanese conflict, such assistance was kept as discreet as conditions allowed. Considerable embarrassment thus arose in July when an accidental explosion revealed that Fateh was training Imam Musa Sadr's militia Amal in the Biqa' Valley.
Still, for the Rejection Front and the DFLP the actions of the mainstream PLO leadership were a weak response to the rightist challenge the PLO now faced. In their view, the Palestinians and the Lebanese National Movement were fighting the same struggle, against imperialism and reaction. This was not to say that the Palestinians should now take a leading role in the Lebanese dimension of that struggle: such responsibility lay with the Lebanese themselves. But at the same time Palestinian radicals saw little merit in arguments for a more "neutral" or "evenhanded" approach such as dialogue with the Lebanese right or 'Arafat's apparent efforts to distance himself from the LNM. The PLO and Lebanese progressive parties were fighting in the same trench, and just as the LNM had supported the PLO in its clashes with the Lebanese Army in 1969, 1973, and now in 1975, so too the PLO should stand behind the LNM in its clashes with the Phalange and its allies. According to George Habash:
We in the PFLP maintain that in Lebanon the progressive and patriotic forces must take their proper position in the battle against reactionaries and imperialism. They must play the leading role, and in turn we view ourselves as a supportive element, as a force allied to the progressive forces and not the opposite.
Furthermore, we do not occupy a position of neutrality as regards the ongoing struggle in Lebanon, a situation which the reactionaries desire. In this context we cannot remain neutral, for we are with the deprived and the oppressed because they are our allies, whereas the [ruling] class is not only against us but in fact is party to schemes that aim at our liquidation....18
Such an ideological argument for a more active PLO-LNM alliance and a more aggressive Palestinian politico-military response to the Phalange was often complemented by a practical one, based on an analysis of Phalangist objectives. The Phalange, it was argued, had started the conflict and would continue it until defeated. Since confrontation seemed inevitable, was it not best to adopt a policy of active defense, striking at the rightist militias before they could grow further in strength and inflict ever greater numbers of Palestinian casualties? In the words of one DFLP Politburo member:
[The conflict] was started by the Phalangists themselves, and the main objective, the main slogan of the Phalangist militias was the demand to throw out the Palestinians. The civil war in Lebanon certainly had its own internal Lebanese aims, but this war started with an offensive by the right wing mainly against the Palestinian resistance. The right wing viewed the Palestinian presence as one of the main factors that shifted the balance of forces in the Lebanese formula, strengthening the position of the national and Islamic forces. That is why their main assault was against the Palestinians at that time.
In order to defend the Palestinian refugee camps you had to, one way or another, smash the military power of the right wing. In order to do that, you had to fight alongside the National Movement...19
Hence Nayif Hawatima's criticism of Fateh's military policies:
We found ourselves with two methods of defeating [the second round of fighting in May]. The course of "negative defense" prevailed and this put all the forces of the revolution in positions of limited defense while the Phalangists and their partners remained, especially after some of the state's forces intervened on the side of the Phalangists, in offensive positions which confused the revolution politically and militarily. This is why the popular calls emanated in most of the positions demanding that offensive attack be repelled and that the revolution not be content with negative defense.
The domination of this course permitted the continuation of the aggression for a longer time, caused greater and bigger losses and victims, and exposed the revolution to the likelihood of slipping into dangerous political pitfalls which the hostile forces often attempted to exploit.20
For their part, the groups of the Rejection Front announced from the outset that they would not be bound by the PLO's policy of self-restraint. Instead, they often complained of what they saw as only limited PLO support for the National Movement. In June the PFLP criticized 'Arafat's statement to the Lebanese people. Rejectionist groups participated in the fighting around Tripoli in September, and were by their own admission "prominent at both the military and political levels" during the later fighting in central Beirut. The Rejection Front also voiced criticism of PLO mediation and ceasefire efforts, arguing that such attempts to "achieve a tribal truce between certain parties of the nationalist movement and the fascist right in Lebanon" violated the PLO's alliance with the LNM and would "benefit only the rightist parties."21
Such policy differences, combined with general problems of Palestinian disunity, adversely affected the degree of command and control exercised by the official PLO leadership. This in turn weakened the effectiveness of the PLO's policy of restraint and undermined the credibility of its attempts at dialogue with the opposition. But it is possible to exaggerate this effect, and to overlook those practical considerations which increasingly mitigated the differences between Palestinian organizations. Most important of all, it was Fateh (supported by al-Sa'iqa) that controlled by far the largest portion of Palestinian forces, the Rejection Front notwithstanding. As the mainstream Fateh/PLO leadership used its superior weight to reduce uncontrolled and provocative behavior, the prominence of Palestinian rejectionist forces diminished. Fateh/PLO policy thus prevailed, as Nayif Hawatima confirmed. Growing inter-Palestinian cooperation spurred by the Phalangist challenge reinforced this. And eventually, Phalangist efforts to escalate the fighting gradually inclined the Fateh leadership to the view that a more active military policy might be necessary, narrowing the differences between it and the DFLP or Rejection Front. This was particularly the case after the Palestinian refugee camps in (predominately Christian) East Beirut-Tall al-Za'tar, Jisr al-Basha, and Dubaya-came under periodic shelling from rightist forces. Both Fateh and Sa'iqa forces provided major support to LNM forces fighting in downtown Beirut after September. In late December a further increase in PLO military participation in the war was evident when elements of Fateh's Syrian-based Yarmuk brigade entered the Biqa' to aid in the fighting around Zahla.
The year came to a close with several troubling harbingers for the PLO and its Lebanese policy. There were signs of a continued rightist military build-up, with a ship-load of arms reportedly arriving for the LNP and Phalange at the port of Junya in early November. On November 6 the militant Maronite Monastic Orders released a long statement on the crisis bitterly critical of the Palestinian movement:
[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.22
In December, as Maronite leaders met to coordinate strategy, Camille Chamoun and others refused to hold any future meetings with 'Arafat and the PLO.
Escalation, January 1976
On 5 January 1976, rightist forces launched sieges of the Tall al-Za'tar and Jisr al-Basha refugee camps in East Beirut. On January 12 the Dubaya refugee camp northeast of the city was attacked and overrun, after a fierce battle with its Palestinian (and largely Christian) defenders. The following day, a summit meeting of Maronite leaders declared that the current conflict was between "the Lebanese, especially the Christians, and the Palestinians, whether Christian or Muslim, who have broken the agreements in force in a dishonorable manner and allied themselves with leftist movements, hiding behind the Muslims."23 The major Maronite-rightist groups (the Phalange, LNP, the Maronite Monastic Orders, the Guardians of the Cedars, and al-Tanzim) formally allied themselves under the banner of the "Front of Freedom and Man in Lebanon," or the Lebanese Front (LF).
In response to this the PLO frantically signaled that it would not long tolerate attacks on Palestinian camps and positions. Senior PLO/Fateh military commander Colonel Sa'd Sayil (Abu Walid) warned publicly:
We will absolutely not allow the siege to go on, whatever the cost. Our armed forces are ready at any time to break the siege. But out of a desire to calm down the situation, we are giving the opportunity to the wise people and extremists in this country to reconsider their positions. This will be the last chance given to them by the revolution and the Lebanese nationalist movement.
Similarly Voice of Palestine radio declared that "the Palestinian command cannot maintain the policy of restraint much longer at a time when the Palestinian-Lebanese people are facing shelling and destruction in many parts of Beirut and other towns."24 The sieges, however, continued.
This in turn brought large-scale Palestinian involvement in the civil war. Previously withheld Fateh and Sa'iqa forces were committed to battle in Beirut, the Biqa', and in a counter-offensive against the predominately Christian town of Damur astride the strategic Beirut-Sidon road. With much of the PLO's military force still deployed in south Lebanon, however, even this was insufficient to reverse the situation. On January 19 the Lebanese Front overran and leveled Beirut's Palestinian-protected al-Karantina and al-Maslakh slum districts, killing one thousand of their Palestinian and Lebanese Muslim inhabitants in the process and evicting a further twenty thousand others. Following a meeting at the Sunni Mufti's home attended by Junblat and other LNM and Muslim leaders, an urgent appeal for assistance was dispatched to Syrian President Asad.
As a result, the units of the Yarmuk brigade, and PLA's Hittin and al-Qadisiyya brigades-perhaps three thousand troops in all-entered Lebanon from Syria. While the PLA fought near Zahla and established control over much of the Biqa' Valley and Beirut-Damascus highway, PLO forces from the south were redeployed in support of the Damur counter-offensive. The town fell on January 20. Some five hundred of its inhabitants were killed and a further seven thousand expelled by the victorious but embittered PLO and LNM fighters, much to the displeasure of their respective leaderships.
The Palestinian military offensive was intended to lessen pressure on the East Beirut camps, avert the encirclement of West Beirut, maintain lines of communication to positions in the south, and punish the Lebanese Front for its military escalation of the conflict. And it was successful in achieving most of these aims. On January 22 the rightist parties agreed to a Syrian-sponsored ceasefire. A Higher Military Committee (including both Zuhayr Muhsin and Sa'd Sayil as members) was established to oversee it.
The military strength of the PLO, its internal alliance with the Lebanese National Movement, and external support from some Arab states had all proven crucial to the PLO.25 Calls for assistance had brought messages of support from most Arab regimes. Syria was particularly important in this regard, ordering the transfer of Syrian-controlled PLA troops to Lebanon and providing arms, ammunition, and other military aid. Egypt too had permitted the transfer of elements of the PLA 'Ayn Jalut Brigade to Lebanon in an effort to regain some Palestinian favor in the aftermath of Sinai II. But this had been achieved at the cost of militarizing and Arabizing the conflict, something which the PLO leadership had hoped to avoid. Syria had emerged from the January fighting in a major position in Lebanon, both diplomatically and by virtue of its influence over Sa'iqa and the Syrian-based Yarmuk and PLA Hittin and al-Qadisiyya brigades. Appalled by "Black Saturday" and other atrocities against Muslims, Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab countries shifted their support to the traditional Sunni elite. Finally, the scope and depth of Israeli involvement in Lebanon expanded too. In addition to continuing military action in the south, Israel responded to the surge of armed conflict in January by initiating large-scale military aid (arms, ammunition and training) to the rightist parties (especially the LNP) early in the new year.
Towards Intervention, February-May 1976
The January 22 ceasefire was quickly followed by two other important developments. The first of these came on February 14, when President Franjiyya unveiled a Syrian-engineered 17-point proposal for political reforms for the country. Among its major provisions, the "Constitutional Document" called for equal Christian and Muslim representation in the Chamber of Deputies; selection of the Prime Minister by parliament (rather than by the President); changes in the naturalization law; an end to the distribution of lower-level civil service positions on a sectarian basis; and a declaration of Lebanon's status as a "sovereign Arab state." The Constitutional Document would not have altered the National Pact assignment of the offices of President, Prime Minister, and parliamentary Speaker to a Maronite, Sunni, and Shi'a respectively. On the contrary, this practice would now be enshrined in writing.26
The response of Lebanon's political leaders to the initiative was cautious. Qualified endorsement was heard from Jumayyil, Chamoun, Karami, and Kamal As'ad. Eddé and Salam were critical. So too was Sadr, who nonetheless muted his comments in deference to Syria, which was providing substantial material support for his organization. Kamal Junblat and the PSP, in a memorandum issued February 24, rejected most of the Constitutional Document proposals.
The second important development of the new year was the collapse of the Lebanese Army. In the course of the battle for Damur and nearby Sa'diyyat (home of Camille Chamoun) in January, the Lebanese Army and airforce had been ordered to assist the town's defenders. In Beirut, Interior Minister Chamoun had ordered the Internal Security Forces to aid in the siege of Palestinian refugee camps. Such partisan intervention on the side of the Lebanese Front soon sparked the beginnings of a confessional-political split in the ranks of the armed forces. By mid-February, some nine hundred Muslim soldiers, led by Lt. Ahmad al-Khatib, had broken away to form the "Lebanese Arab Army" (LAA) in the Biqa'. In an attempt to halt the process, army commander Hanna Sa'id backed a proposal (put forward March 10 by Colonel George Ghurayib, the Christian commander of the Rayaq air force base in the Biqa') that Khatib and his men be granted amnesty. The suggestion was vehemently rejected by Franjiyya. The President, supported by rightist officers, instead condemned Khatib as a traitor and demanded that he and the members of the LAA be punished. Franjiyya's obstinacy provoked a coup attempt on March 11 by Brigadier 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Ahdab, the Beirut barracks commander. Broadcasting on Lebanese radio and television-but with little military force to back his demands-Ahdab placed the blame for the worsening political climate in the country on Franjiyya and demanded his resignation.27
Franjiyya rejected the demand, and there was little that the "television coup" could do to force him. Still, Ahdab's move galvanized political opposition to the President. Soon sixty-eight of the ninety-nine members of the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies (including Junblat, Salam, Karami, and Eddé) had signed a petition demanding that Franjiyya go. The Lebanese Arab Army grew further in strength, to an estimated three thousand soldiers by mid-March. Still the President refused to step down.
It was at this point, amidst political deadlock and apparently endless clashes in Beirut, that the National Movement took what was to prove a momentous decision to force a political settlement through military means. On March 15 LNM and LAA forces attempted to advance on the presidential palace at Ba'abda. Although they failed to reach their objective, the move provoked a flurry of political activity, culminating in a Syrian-engineered amendment to the Lebanese constitution to allow early (and face-saving) presidential elections. It was too little, too late in Junblat's eyes. Instead, the time had come to "cut the Gordian knot and put an end to the dirty trench warfare in Beirut." A more aggressive strategy, he later explained, was "forced" on the National Movement. "As the war dragged on it became imperative to take action," and thus "the racist fascism of the Phalange, of Chamoun and company, first had to be broken militarily if one was to later deal with it politically and, eventually, heal it psychologically."28 On March 21 he announced the beginnings of a "total and irreversible" offensive against the Lebanese Front. National Movement, Lebanese Arab Army, and Palestinian forces were launched against rightist positions in central Beirut and, more significantly, against the Christian heartland of Mount Lebanon. As Franjiyya was forced from the presidential palace at Ba'abda by heavy shelling, PLO and LNM militias advanced on 'Ayn Tura, Bayt Mari, and other objectives in the upper Metn.
Troubles with Syria: The Mountain Offensive
The launching of the Mountain offensive hastened what had already become a serious deterioration of relations between Junblat and Damascus. The Syrians resented Junblat's rejection of the Constitutional Document, particularly since he had raised few of his later objections during prior consultations. They were also angered by his support for the Lebanese Arab Army, the formation of which they saw as a serious blow to their attempts to stabilize the Lebanese situation. In this context, the Mountain offensive constituted a final straw of sorts. Syria, together with Ba'th Party Organization in Lebanon and Sa'iqa within the PLO, strongly condemned the National Movement offensive. Syrian-controlled Sa'iqa and PLA troops (many of them disguised Syrian regulars) were deployed in defense of the Lebanese Parliament and Presidential palace, where they were responsible for blocking the advance of LAA-National Movement forces. Armed clashes between Sa'iqa and National Movement forces erupted as both Khaddam and Zuhayr Muhsin issued unequivocal threats to occupy Junblat's military headquarters at Aley unless the offensive were stopped. Other pro-Syrian opposition groups-Kamal Shatila's Union of Working People's Forces in Beirut, Imam Musa al-Sadr's Movement of the Deprived, a portion of the SSNP, and the Kurdish "Razkari" Party-also criticized Junblat, joining the Ba'th Party Organization in forming their own "Front of Patriotic and National Parties." On March 28 the Syrian leadership took the decision to impose a naval blockade to prevent arms and other supplies reaching National Movement ports. On April 9 an even more ominous gesture was made as Syrian armor moved a few kilometers inside Lebanese territory, occupying the border post of al-Masna'a astride the Beirut-Damascus highway.
PLO-Syrian relations also soured during this period. Continued strong ties between the PLO and National Movement were the major reason for this, as the Palestinian leadership resisted Syrian pressure to drop their Lebanese allies. The pressure became significant after the January ceasefire and Junblat's rejection of the February 1976 Constitutional Declaration, as Khalaf later related:
Junblat thought Syria had once again abandoned the National Movement, which in his view would have been able to impose at least part of its program of institutional, economic, and social reforms if Damascus had supported the left's military strategy a little longer. President Asad, on the other hand, claimed that continued fighting would have hardened the rightist parties and brought about a disastrous foreign intervention, particularly by Israel. In short, the Palestinian Resistance was torn between the need to maintain good relations with its Syrian ally and the moral obligation to stand by the Lebanese left.29
For its part the PLO leadership was irritated by its lack of control over the PLA, and by Damascus' use of al-Sa'iqa to settle political scores with the National Movement and other opponents of its policies in Lebanon. On January 31, for example, al-Sa'iqa guerrillas had attacked the offices of two Beirut newspapers, apparently in response to articles critical of Syria. Within the PLA, a long power struggle between 'Arafat (theoretical Commander-in-Chief of all PLA forces) and Syria (represented by Zuhayr Muhsin, head of the PLO Military Department, and by PLA Chief of Staff Brigadier Misbah Budayri, on loan from the Syrian army) intensified. In March, PLA forces in the south began to harass members of the Iraqi-sponsored ALF, leading Faruq Qaddumi of the PLO Executive Committee to admit that the PLO leadership had "no control over some of these troops."30
Among the particular Palestinian actions which raised Syrian ire was the PLO's support for Lieutenant Khatib and the Lebanese Arab Army. The Palestinians did, as the Syrians suspected, play a key role in the formation of the LAA (although Khalil al-Wazir was later to claim that this role was forced on PLO by the discovery of Lebanese Army operation orders calling for military action against the resistance). Bolstered by PLO forces, Khatib's group soon captured a series of Lebanese Army posts in south Lebanon and the Biqa'. Defections to the LAA also occurred at many Lebanese Army barracks. The Syrians were furious, and Hikmat Shihabi dispatched several officers to al-Wazir to demand an explanation and the withdrawal of PLO support for Khatib. The PLO, however, refused.31
Another area of tension was Ahdab's "television coup." Fateh security men accompanied the Brigadier to the broadcast station, fueling suspicions that the Palestinians were involved here too. The PLO denied this, suggesting the decision to provide an escort was taken on the spot by Fateh's second-ranking intelligence officer, 'Ali Hasan Salama, and did not reflect any greater role.32
Perceived PLO support for Raymond Eddé in the Lebanese presidential elections was a further irritant. Eddé was strongly opposed to Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs, and was the only real candidate opposing Syria's choice for the presidency, Ilyas Sarkis. The PLO, whilst not hiding its preference for Eddé, denied that it was interfering in the electoral process in any way. Indeed, 'Arafat was adamant that, far from interfering, the PLO refrained from doing so despite the fact that the Chamber of Deputies was well within its military reach. According to Salah Khalaf:
The Resistance leaders were at a loss as to what attitude to adopt. Should we prevent parliament from electing a new president, and thus come into open conflict with Syria? Or should we abandon the Lebanese left and allow Ilyas Sarkis to be elected? We were in a quandary...
The Resistance finally decided it wasn't worth it to incur the terrible wrath of Damascus, even if it were true that Eddé if elected could have ended the civil war, dismantled the partisan militias, reunited the army, and assured the unity of the country on new bases. On the other hand, as a gesture to the left the fida'iyyin subjected the building where the deputies met on May 8... to a heavy shelling, just enough to show their displeasure but not enough to block the election of a new president.33
It is undeniable, however, that the PLO did support, militarily and politically, Junblat's Mountain offensive-perhaps the most provocative move of all in Syria's eyes. In Damascus, the actions of the PLO and LNM raised the specter of Lebanese partition, and possible Israeli intervention. It also highlighted the independence of both the PLO and Junblat, an independence that Syria found unnerving and potentially dangerous. In response, after January 1976 Syria shifted its support away from the PLO and LNM, and towards Franjiyya and the Lebanese Front. Syrian military intervention, first covert, later overt, increased. Why then had the Palestinian leadership committed itself to the offensive, knowing full well the potential cost?
Essentially the PLO supported the Mountain offensive for the same reason that Junblat and the National Movement had initiated it: to break the prevailing political and military deadlock and speed a resolution of the civil war. With tens of thousands of Palestinians concentrated in refugee camps in the Beirut area-many on the front lines, and all vulnerable to shelling-the need to break the cycle of fighting in the capital was particularly acute. Moreover, the failure in early January of previous Palestinian policy based on restraint, dialogue, and limited defense forced a new strategic approach. Apart from al-Sa'iqa, some within the Palestinian leadership (notably Khalid al-Hasan of Fateh, and to a lesser extent 'Arafat himself) were opposed to such active intervention in support of Junblat, and the consequent dangers of further entanglement in Lebanese affairs and confrontation with Syria. Most felt, however, that Syria's ability to intervene against a joint PLO/LNM/LAA offensive would be limited by international disapproval-by the US and Israel, by other Arab states, and by the Soviet Union. In the absence of such intervention, joint military action by Palestinian and progressive forces would achieve a series of military victories that would force the Lebanese Front to negotiate a settlement based on reform-a settlement to which Syria would be forced to reconcile itself.34
In this sense-and despite a widely reported remark by Salah Khalaf that the "road to Palestine" might pass through the Maronite center of Junya itself (later denied by him, but seized upon by the Lebanese Front and Syria as proof of aggressive Palestinian intent)-the offensive was not intended to result in the military conquest of all Mount Lebanon. In practice only a fraction of Fateh forces were deployed in support of the offensive, a fact that would rankle those Fateh field commanders responsible for its prosecution. The DFLP too rejected the idea that the joint offensive was designed to "liberate" Mount Lebanon:
The idea was not to defeat the right-wing militias completely... We did not have the dream to control Junya, this was not on the agenda. The Mountain offensive was an attempt to force the right-wing to a political settlement which was more favorable to our presence, and to the demands of the Lebanese National Movement. The slogans that were raised by Kamal Junblat about "military decisiveness" (al-hasm al-'askari), [about] a decisive military strike to liberate the districts that were under the control of the right wing-we realized-I don't know if Kamal Junblat realized-it was only a dream.35
Yet whether Junblat realized this or not was, in a sense, irrelevant. What was important at this stage was whether Hafiz al-Asad believed that the PLO's objectives were as limited as its leaders would later claim. Clearly he did not, and Syrian-PLO relations deteriorated accordingly.
Strong condemnation of the Syrian role in Lebanon was now heard from the PFLP and ALF, which demanded Sa'iqa's expulsion from the PLO. In a statement issued March 22, the former slammed Sa'iqa for its defense of Franjiyya against the LNM and LAA, and Syria for its perceived willingness to involve itself in a "capitulationist" Middle East settlement. In the PFLP's view, Syrian policy in Lebanon was intimately related to the diplomatic situation in the Middle East: Damascus was said to be trying to gain hegemony over Lebanon and the PLO so as to improve its bargaining position in any future negotiations with the US for a Middle East peace settlement-"even if this resulted in supporting the Phalange and President Franjiyya in their quest to prevent the deconfessionalization of Lebanon." To achieve this, Damascus had first intervened to secure ceasefires between the PLO/LNM and the Lebanese Front, thus assuring maintenance of a status quo. When this had failed (in the face of continued National Movement demands for reform and the military strength of the PLO and LNM) Syria had embarked on more direct material and military assistance to the Lebanese right. Sa'iqa angrily responded to the PFLP's charges with condemnation of "the suspect motives of the quarters which are trying to drag the resistance movement into involvement in Lebanon's domestic struggle." Fateh, although also voicing criticism of Sa'iqa, was more circumspect. There was, however, a very public reconciliation between Habash and 'Arafat at the March 30 commemoration ceremonies for the Palestinian "Day of the Land" in Beirut. The significance of this in terms of Palestinian unity in the face of external threats did not go unnoticed.36
For the most part, however, the PLO mainstream made strenuous and multiple efforts to heal the breach between it and the National Movement on one side, and Damascus on the other. To this end 'Arafat (together with Khalaf, Muhsin, and Hawatima) traveled to Damascus to meet with Hafiz al-Asad on March 16. There they urged the Syrian President both to support Franjiyya's departure from power, and to meet with Junblat directly. Eleven days later another Palestinian delegation consisting of 'Arafat, Khalaf, and Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin) of the Fateh Central Committee accompanied Junblat when he visited Damascus himself.37 Despite its past record of support for the National Movement, the DFLP was even more anxious to avoid a break with Syria, with which it had heretofore enjoyed very good relations. It thus pressed for a limitation of National Movement aims in the offensive. Nayif Hawatima also played an active role trying to reconcile the Palestinian, Syrian, and National Movement positions during meetings with Asad in March and April.
Another 'Arafat visit followed on April 15-16, a week after the first major penetration of Syrian troops into Lebanon. This time the two sides came to an agreement on a 7-point plan for Lebanon which included a ceasefire and reactivation of the Lebanese-Syrian-Palestinian Higher Military Committee. They also agreed to oppose the partition of Lebanon, reject US plans for the region, work to avoid the Arabization or internationalization of the crisis, and support Syria's continuing political initiatives in the country. Although Junblat was not pleased with the outcome, he and the National Movement were prevailed upon by the PLO leadership to endorse the Syrian-Palestinian agreement.38 The ceasefire was subsequently policed by Syrian-controlled troops of the PLA.
Despite the willingness not to Arabize the Lebanese conflict professed by the PLO in the agreement, divergence between the PLO and Syria could now increasingly be seen at the regional level too. As it became clear that the differences between Syrian and PLO policies in Lebanon were growing wider, the Palestinian leadership intensified efforts to secure alternate allies. Iraq and Egypt, each engaged in bitter rivalry with Syria for very different reasons, proved most responsive. Between January and June approximately two and a half battalions of the PLA 'Ayn Jalut Brigade were shipped or air-lifted from Egypt to the PLO in Lebanon, together with arms and ammunition. Some Iraqi-based units of the ALF and PLA al-Qadisiyya forces were similarly transferred. Such activities only stoked Syrian hostility, as Asad now saw the PLO consorting with his Arab enemies. Many Palestinian groups also opposed the strengthening ties with Egypt, the very same government that had recently signed the Sinai II Agreement with Israel and the United States. The PFLP, DFLP, and Sa'iqa all publicly condemned PLO-Egyptian rapprochement. Public criticism, however, could block neither the visit of Fateh's Hani al-Hasan to Cairo for talks at the end of April, nor Fateh's establishment of closer ties with Egypt over the Lebanese issue. It was a balancing act to be sure; each time a Palestinian leader criticized Sinai II the PLO would have to act to calm Egyptian anger. But the Fateh leadership calculated that it could not resist both Egypt and Syria at the same time, and that if it was to embark on a potential collision course with the latter it needed external support.39
Matters approached a climax early in May. On May 9 WAFA accused the Lebanese Front of violating the April 16 ceasefire. A few days later a PLO-National Movement-LAA offensive was launched under the auspices of a newly-formed (May 12) joint command. Joint Palestinian and progressive forces advanced against opposing strongholds in the Metn-Kisrawan region as, for the first time in the war, the Palestinian leadership explicitly acknowledged their leading role in the fighting.40
With this Syrian-Palestinian relations deteriorated still further. A May 15 meeting between Asad and 'Arafat produced little more than bitter acrimony, and soon 'Arafat was reportedly being denied permission to enter Syria at all. Colonel Fakhri Shakkura, commander of the PLA al-Qadisiyya Brigade in the Biqa', was arrested by the Syrians for following orders issued by Fateh's Khalil al-Wazir, overall commander of PLO forces in Lebanon. Clashes erupted between Palestinian (especially Rejection Front) and National Movement forces on the one side, and Syrian Sa'iqa and PLA units on the other. The most serious of these occurred in Tripoli on May 11, when an attack by local pro-Syrian Ba'thists, PLA, Sa'iqa, and Syrian commando units against the PFLP and local pro-Iraqi groups resulted in some one hundred and fifty casualties. The PLO leadership subsequently condemned the attack, warned the PLA not to fight against the National Movement, and called for the withdrawal of Syrian forces. 'Arafat unsuccessfully tried to order the ever-increasing number of PLA troops in Lebanon to return to their Syrian bases. On May 25 there was a failed assassination attempt against Raymond Eddé; two days later Kamal Junblat's sister Linda was murdered in East Beirut. On May 29 the LAA commander in the north, Major Ahmad Mi'mari, began the unauthorized bombardment of several Christian towns and villages, an action which Salah Khalaf condemned as part of a conspiracy to prepare a pretext for Syrian military intervention. By the month's end the PLO's official journal Filastin al-Thawra published its first-ever direct condemnation of Damascus, accusing it of "undermining the victories of the Palestinian revolution, arresting Palestinian fighters, and supplying [the rightist parties] with all kinds of political, moral, and material support."41
Damascene Steel, June-October 1976
On 1 June 1976 Syrian military intervention began in earnest as an additional four thousand combat troops of the Syrian Third Armored Division, supported by over two hundred tanks, crossed the border into Lebanon. They rapidly took up positions in the Biqa' Valley, advancing as far as Zahla on the Beirut-Damascus highway. Reinforcements then followed, with the number of Syrian soldiers in the country rising to twelve thousand by June 6, to twenty thousand in mid-August, and to thirty thousand by late September.
Syria's decision to intervene was strongly welcomed by Franjiyya and Jumayyil, although Chamoun's attitude was more reserved. It was also supported, initially at least, by Rashid Karami and a number of conservative figures in the Muslim community. 'Asim Qansuh of the Ba'th Party Organization blessed the move, as did the "Vanguards of the Lebanese Arab Army" (a pro-Syrian splinter of the LAA), and the parties of the pro-Syrian "National Front." And, of course, it was supported by Zuhayr Muhsin of al-Sa'iqa, who, in his capacity as a member of the Syrian Ba'th Regional Command, had been a direct participant in the decision to commit Syrian troops against the National Movement and PLO.42
The PLO and Lebanese National Movement were less enthused by this apparent attempt to contain or crush them. In a joint communique issued after an emergency meeting on June 2 a defiant note was struck:
First: The Palestinian revolution and the Lebanese National Movement affirm their political stand and unified struggle in rejecting and resisting Syrian military occupation of Lebanon.
Second: Active joint measures will be taken in coordination between the Palestinian resistance, the Lebanese National Movement and the Lebanese Arab Army to confront the military aggression against the Palestinian and Lebanese people.
Third: The Syrian regime is responsible for the grave result of any clashes between the Syrian occupation forces and the Palestinian revolution and Lebanese National Movement.
Fourth: To carry on the internal political popular campaign to raise the voice of the Lebanese and Palestinian masses in rejecting the occupation, starting with a general strike on June 6 throughout Lebanon, and to ensure that all Lebanese political personalities and forces, official or non-official, shoulder their responsibilities and take a definite stand towards this occupation.
Fifth: To continue Arab and international political activity to secure broad Arab and international support for the National Movement and Palestinian revolution, as well as calling on the Arab states to take a frank official stand as regards Syrian military intervention in Lebanon, calling also on the Arab masses to raise their voices against this intervention, which harms not only Lebanon, but the joint national destiny of the Arab masses.43
A new "United Military Command" was established for the Joint Forces (quwat al-mushtarika) as Palestinian, National Movement, and Lebanese Arab Army fighters took up defensive positions to block any further Syrian advance on Beirut. That same day Junblat held talks with Sarkis on a ceasefire and national reconciliation. The meeting (arranged by 'Ali Hasan Salama and attended by Salah Khalaf) was designed to show Syria's intervention as unnecessary. But it was too late.
Over the next few days a stand-off developed between the Syrians and the Joint Forces. This was broken June 6, when intense fighting erupted throughout Lebanon. Syrian forces advanced from the Biqa' towards Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon.
Asad and al-Sa'iqa subsequently claimed that the Syrian advance was provoked by attacks on the offices of pro-Syrian groups in Beirut by the PLO. The PLO maintained, however, that this was necessary to preempt planned actions against the PLO and LNM. According to Khalaf (who, in the absence of 'Arafat and other members of the PLO leadership from Beirut, presided over the decision to resist Syrian intervention), the PLO learned that the Syrian-controlled organizations intended to launch attacks against leftist and Rejection Front parties on June 6, which in turn would provide a pretext for Syrian military units in and around Beirut to intervene-suppressing Fateh at the same time. Forewarned, the PLO launched a six-hour operation to disarm the militias and arrest their leaders. In fact, many Sa'iqa members voluntarily quit their organization rather than fight fellow fida'iyyin. Similar "defections" to the PLO occurred within the ranks of the PLA. The 'Ayn Jalut Brigade, the bulk of the al-Qadisiyya Brigade, and over one-third of the Hittin Brigade remained loyal to the Palestinian command. The PLA's pro-Syrian Chief-of-Staff, Misbah Budayri, was handed over to the PLO by his own troops, and imprisoned. (He was subsequently stripped of his position, and unceremoniously returned to Damascus via Libyan Prime Minister and mediator 'Abd al-Salam Jallud.) 'Arafat now assumed control of the PLO Military Department and command of all Palestinian forces.44
Despite military support in the Mountains from the Lebanese Front, the advancing Syrian soldiers encountered stiff opposition. A major battle raged at Bahamdun, on the Beirut-Damascus highway. In Sidon, a Syrian column which attempted to enter the city June 8 was ambushed by Palestinian and LNM forces and forced to withdraw with heavy casualties.45
Such resistance provided time for the PLO's diplomatic machinery to try to rally Arab and international opinion against the Syrian intervention. On June 1 Faruq Qaddumi made a public appeal in Beirut for an emergency meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers to discuss the Lebanese crisis. The message was then repeated privately by Qaddumi and Khalaf to Arab ambassadors in the Lebanese capital the following day. In Cairo, Jamil al-Surani and Ribhi Awad (the PLO and Fateh representatives in Egypt respectively) placed a similar request before Arab League Secretary General Mahmud Riyad. After the intensification of Syrian military action on June 6, personal appeals were sent by 'Arafat to Arab Heads of State.
An emergency session of Arab League foreign ministers was convened, on June 9. There they agreed to call for an immediate ceasefire, and the deployment of an Arab peace-keeping force in Lebanon consisting of both Syrian and other Arab troop contingents. Small numbers of Sudanese, Saudi, and Libyan troops were later deployed in Beirut, alongside the thousands of Syrian soldiers already in the country.
With this, the pace of fighting slowed to intermittent skirmishes. The PLO now concentrated its efforts on trying to win political and material support for its position in Lebanon, and securing the withdrawal of the largest possible portion of the Syrian forces. 'Arafat began a major tour of Arab capitals, traveling to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya in the two week period following the foreign ministers' meeting. In Beirut, the PLO issued a statement June 12 calling for Arab and Soviet action to halt Syria, while in Cairo al-Surani and Awad complained to Secretary General Riyad that Damascus was not withdrawing or implementing the Arab League resolutions.
Massive overt Syrian military intervention in Lebanon in June 1976 served to complete the Arabization of the Lebanese civil war, substantially shifting the fulcrum of the conflict from its initial Lebanese social and political bases to the broader regional arena. Within the Arab world, the PLO continued to receive support for its position from Syria's two major rivals, Iraq and Egypt. Immediately upon Syrian intervention in June-decried as a "hideous act" of the "fascist ruling clique in Damascus"-Iraq ostentatiously moved military forces to the Syrian border.46 In October, a further 1,200 ALF "volunteers" were sent to support the PLO against Syria, bringing the total number of Iraqi-sponsored forces in the country to approximately three thousand. Egypt continued its transfer of Egyptian-based PLA forces to Lebanon, despite the Syrian (and Israeli) blockade of National Movement ports. It also allowed the PLO to reopen its Egyptian Voice of Palestine transmitter, closed in 1975 after Palestinian criticism of Sinai II. Sadat strongly encouraged the PLO to maintain a tough position against Syria-an encouragement that led some to suspect that he was more interested in confrontation with Asad than with the fate of the Palestinian movement in Lebanon.
The position of other Arab countries was more equivocal. Some found themselves torn between their friendly relations with both Syria and the PLO. Libya, for example, played an active role as mediator in the person of Libyan Premier 'Abd al-Salam Jallud. Libya also provided material aid to the Palestinian and progressive forces, and especially to the more radical Lebanese Nasirite and Palestinian rejectionist organizations. Obverse considerations motivated Arab conservatives: while welcoming the cutting down to size of the Lebanese left and the PLO (its rejectionist wing in particular), their policies were moderated by widespread popular support for the Palestinians and Muslims; by concern over Egyptian-Syrian estrangement; and by fears of complete Syrian influence over both Lebanon and a defeated Palestinian movement. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in particular played a major role in attempting to reconcile Cairo and Damascus, and also in restraining what they saw as the more excessive of Asad's actions against the PLO. Jordan, on the other hand, was less ambiguous in its support for Asad's move, and quietly redeployed troops along its north-eastern frontier to deter the threat of Iraqi intervention. Amman also continued to extend financial and other aid to its conservative Lebanese allies.
For its part, Israel welcomed the open conflict between Syria and the PLO, and had for this reason let it be known that it would tolerate Syrian intervention, provided it remained north of a "Red Line" drawn approximately from Sidon to the southern Biqa'. An Israeli naval blockade was maintained of National Movement ports. It also continued its policy of supporting the Lebanese Front, with an estimated $100 million worth of arms and other assistance being provided to the rightist militias between January and October 1976.47 In the south, Israel sought to capitalize on the PLO's distraction and local disaffection to create friendly local clients. Military support was thus extended to local anti-Palestinian militias (consisting predominately of rightist Christian elements, but including some Shi'ites). As part of what became known as the "Good Fence" policy, select crossing points were opened along Israel's northern border to allow some southern villagers access to Israeli medical facilities and other services.48
Further acceptance of Syria's actions came from the United States and France. Washington saw Syrian intervention as a stabilizing force and blow to the rising power of the PLO and Lebanese left. Washington thus cautiously approved the entrance of Syrian troops, and played a major role in securing Israeli approval and transmitting to Damascus the limits of Israeli tolerance signified by the tacit "Red Line" in the south. French acquiescence, signaled during Asad's visit to Paris in mid-June, stemmed from a similar view of Syria as a stabilizing factor. In contrast, the Soviet Union disapproved of Asad's actions, despite its close ties with Syria and its past criticism of "extremist" elements in the Palestinian and Lebanese movements. Pravda described the intervention as a "knife in the back" of the Palestinians. While the USSR refused (despite repeated PLO requests) to send arms or supply ships through the Syrian and Israeli naval blockades, it did severely curtail military and economic aid to Damascus as a sign of its displeasure.49
Arab League mediation efforts and the calls for a ceasefire could not but worry the Lebanese Front, and Camille Chamoun in particular. The Lebanese right had, after all, supported Syrian military intervention on the understanding that it would be directed against their Palestinian and Lebanese opponents. Now it seemed as if that confrontation was gradually being frozen before the latter's defeat. Concern was intensified when, on June 22, Riyad and Jallud secured the withdrawal of a Syrian troop contingent at Khalde on Beirut's southern outskirts.
In an effort to regain the political and military initiative and reap maximum advantage from the PLO's current weakened state, June 22 also saw the LNP (supported by al-Tanzim, the Guardians of the Cedars, and right-wing Christian Lebanese Army officers) launch a major military offensive against the two remaining Palestinian refugee camps in East Beirut. The Phalange joined the fighting a few days later. After a week, the camp of Jisr al-Basha fell following stiff resistance. Tall al-Za'tar, with its twenty thousand Palestinian (and up to fifteen thousand Lebanese) inhabitants continued to hold out, despite constant shelling, daily assaults, and a total rightist blockade of all supplies.50
With Tall al-Za'tar surrounded and the bulk of Palestinian forces pinned down in the south or Metn by Syrian troops, there was little the PLO leadership could do other than provide artillery support for the camp's defenders and address urgent appeals to the world. Although a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers was held July 1, this provided small relief. On July 5, the PLO's National Movement allies launched an offensive south of Tripoli in an effort to relieve the pressure on the camp. As they did so, Junblat declared that he would not accept a ceasefire until the siege was lifted. Many conservative Muslim figures, alarmed by the growing assertiveness and power of the Lebanese Front, rallied to the PLO's support. Indicative of this, Karami, Salam, al-Yafi, and several other former Lebanese prime ministers joined Raymond Eddé and some National Movement figures in forming a "National Union Front" on July 11.
For the PLO, much of the blame for the Tall al-Za'tar siege lay with Syria, which it accused of supplying military aid to the Lebanese Front and engaging Palestinian units elsewhere in the country. Within an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, and more directly the National Movement's relief offensive, a planned meeting of 'Arafat, Khaddam, Phalange Politburo member Karim Pakradouni, and the Saudi Foreign Minister, collapsed July 5. A subsequent meeting of Arab foreign ministers July 12 achieved little more than a reaffirmation of its desire for a ceasefire and Syrian-Palestinian rapprochement. With the failure of third-party arbitration and the collapse of the National Movement offensive in the face of a successful rightist counter-attack, the Palestinian leadership had no real choice but to pursue a direct dialogue with Damascus.
Talks between the PLO and Syria, arranged through Libyan and Arab League good offices, opened in the Syrian capital as the siege of Tall al-Za'tar entered its second month. After a week of difficult negotiations, agreement was finally reached. Under the terms of the July 29 accord there was to be an immediate Lebanese ceasefire, overseen by a reactivated Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian Higher Military Committee. The two sides also stated their support for the February 1976 Constitutional Declaration, the principle of Palestinian non-interference in Lebanese internal affairs, and application of the Cairo Agreement and its annexes. In a joint communique issued at the same time, the "special links" between Syria and the PLO were affirmed, with the latter praising the former's "support...to the Palestinian resistance in its struggle against the Zionist enemy." The communique also condemned the Sinai agreements, labeling them part of an "imperialist and Zionist plan."51
Upon its release, the agreement was quickly criticized by the Rejection Front (the ALF, for example, labeled it "stupid tactics") for making excessive concessions to Syria. Egypt was angered by the reference to the Sinai agreements (Qaddumi promptly issued a statement noting the aim of the agreement "was not to harm fraternal Egypt, whose role in support of the Palestinian resistance during the Lebanese crisis has been a prominent one"). Ironically the parties of the Lebanese Front were equally critical, alarmed as they were at any signs of potential Syrian-PLO rapprochement.52
More importantly, the agreement failed to bring an end to the Tall al-Za'tar siege. Attempts were thus made, through the PLO's channels to the Phalange, to work out arrangements for humanitarian relief for the camp's inhabitants. These, however, were systematically sabotaged by the LNP. As the situation grew still more desperate, 'Arafat accused Syria of deliberately obstructing implementation of the Arab League foreign ministers' resolutions and the terms of the July 29 accord. Frantic appeals for help were issued to the Arab governments (or anyone else) to intervene. It was all to no avail.
Finally, on 12 August 1976, Tall al-Za'tar fell. As many as three thousand Palestinians had died in the 53 days of fighting, or in the subsequent atrocities committed by the victorious rightist militias. The remainder were evicted as their homes were razed to the ground.
The Riyadh Summit
With the fall of Tall al-Za'tar, the Palestinian dimension of the Lebanese civil war shifted to new political and military fronts. Fighting flared in the upper Metn between the Joint Forces and Lebanese Front as Syrian troops edged westward along the Beirut-Damascus highway. Simultaneously, a complex series of Palestinian-Phalangist and Palestinian-Syrian negotiations got underway with the assistance of Arab League and Libyan intermediaries.
The first of these opened August 16, with a Phalangist call for a ceasefire and partial Palestinian withdrawal from the Metn, to be followed by negotiations for a full withdrawal and permanent ceasefire. The PLO responded by proposing a ceasefire, followed by comprehensive political negotiations in which the questions of a Palestinian and Syrian withdrawal would form a part. Further discussions ensued through the agency of Arab League peace-keeping force commander Major-General Muhammad Ghunaym, and then on August 21 in the form of direct talks between 'Ali Hasan Salama and Hani al-Hasan (of Fateh) and Alexander Jumayyil and Joseph Abu Sharaf (of the Phalange) at the Beirut home of Sa'ib Salam. By August 24 the two sides were close enough for Ghunaym to announce that partial agreement had been reached. This news was not welcomed either by Chamoun or many members of the LNM, and fighting in Beirut soon escalated as the former's militia sought to scuttle any potential disengagement accord.
Meanwhile, Syria had delivered its demands to the PLO through Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister and Lebanese president-elect Sarkis: the Palestinians must withdraw from the Mountain forthwith. Moreover, Syria demanded that the LNM be excluded from participation in the tripartite committee proposed by the July 29 Syrian-Palestinian agreement. The PLO refused to abandon its National Movement allies, or to withdraw unless Syrian troops were also withdrawn. The Palestinian presence in the Mountain was one of the PLO's few remaining political cards; it was loathe to surrender it without a substantial quid pro quo. Moreover, given popular Palestinian (and LNM) attitudes towards Syria, its intervention, and its apparent complicity in the massacre at Tall al-Za'tar, the political price of any "surrender" to Damascus would be very high indeed.
The PLO's refusal of Syria's demands was quickly followed by increased military pressure against the Joint Forces' positions, especially near Tripoli, and by a Syrian military build-up at Jizzin, east of Sidon. Further rounds of talks (this time direct in nature) followed: secret negotiations between the PLO's Salah Khalaf and Syria's Naji Jamil in early September led to two meetings between 'Arafat, Sarkis, and Jamil (chaired by Arab League envoy Hasan Sabri al-Khuli) at Shtura on September 17 and 19. But these were no more successful than their predecessors. Syria repeated its earlier demands. 'Arafat's counter-proposal of a Palestinian withdrawal in exchange for a ceasefire and Syrian withdrawal from Sofar and Jizzin was rejected.53
Four days later, Sarkis was officially inaugurated as President of Lebanon. In a letter to the newly-installed President, 'Arafat reaffirmed the PLO's support for the unity and stability of Lebanon, and its commitment to previous Lebanese-Palestinian agreements.54
As the date for Sarkis' accession to official power approached and safely past, the Syrian position hardened. It was important, from Damascus' point of view, that it strengthen its hand before a proposed Arab League summit (called on Saudi and Kuwaiti initiative) could be convened during the third week of October. Thus on September 22 it was decided to issue an ultimatum to the PLO, demanding its withdrawal from the Mountain within five days. Four days later, several fida'iyyin stormed the Samiramis Hotel in Damascus. Although the attackers were not associated with the PLO but rather were members of a Baghdad-based group headed by Fateh renegade Sabri al-Banna (Abu Nidal), the incident only hardened Syrian attitudes.55
On September 28, with the PLO still refusing to withdraw from its Mountain positions, Syria unleashed a major offensive. Syrian troops from Sofar and Zahla advanced against Palestinian and National Movement positions in the northern Metn, forcing the Joint Forces to withdraw. At the same time, rightist forces converged on the area from the opposite direction. On September 30, the Syrian advance was halted to give the PLO time to reflect on its situation. At a meeting between the two sides held in Sofar, Khaddam and Jamil demanded the withdrawal of the Joint Forces from Aley and Bahamdun, the opening of the (Palestinian-controlled) airport road in south Beirut, and further negotiations based on the Cairo Agreement, to be implemented within 15 days. The PLO refused. Another day of fighting followed. On October 8, however, the PLO, Syria, and Sarkis agreed to resume the Shtura meetings aborted the previous month. This time Damascus demanded an unconditional Palestinian withdrawal and break with the Lebanese National Movement. Again, the PLO refused. With this, the Syrian offensive was renewed October 11-12.56
Within the Palestinian leadership, the pressure of Syrian attacks ultimately forced a reassessment of the nature of the PLO's alliance with the National Movement, and of the policies which the Palestinian movement had been pursuing since the spring. Within Fateh, Khalid al-Hasan was the most prominent spokesman for the view that the PLO had gone too far in supporting Junblat, and had consequently become too deeply involved in fighting battles with Damascus. Against this Salah Khalaf (backed by Nimr Salih and many of the smaller Palestinian groups) argued that it would be both "an intolerable breach of loyalty" and a "serious political blunder" to abandon the Lebanese National Movement. Yet almost all agreed that, given political and military realities, indefinite continuation of the confrontation with Syria was out of the question.57
The decision finally reached was described as one of "fighting withdrawal": the PLO would reject Syria's harsh terms for a settlement, but would nevertheless withdraw its advance forces in the upper Metn to last-ditch defenses at Aley and Bahamdun. Many National Movement and Rejection Front leaders opposed the decision, and when the Syrian offensive started in September, they tried to hold their positions. But, given the withdrawal of the bulk of fighting forces belonging to Fateh, they ultimately could not do so. They too were also forced to retreat.
Concurrent with the policy of "fighting withdrawal," the PLO also redoubled its efforts to secure inter-Arab agreement on ending the Lebanese conflict. Central to this were efforts by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (and Fateh's Khalid al-Hasan) to secure a sufficient degree of Syrian-Egyptian rapprochement, the apparent prerequisite of any meaningful and effective initiative. But progress was slow, hampered by the conservative regimes' ambiguous attitudes towards Syria and the PLO; by the new strength of Syrian-Jordanian relations, and Jordan's support for Syria's intervention; by Egypt's increasingly withdrawn attitude to issues of Arab politics; and by the absence in Saudi Arabia of King Faysal, assassinated in 1975.58
The necessary diplomatic break-through finally came as Syria renewed its assault in October. On October 14, shortly after the fighting had restarted, 'Arafat sent an urgent personal appeal for help to Saudi Crown Prince Fahd. The following day, the government of Saudi Arabia announced that a limited Arab summit conference would be held in Riyadh on October 16. Enjoying a strong position on the ground, amidst growing domestic discontent in Syria with intervention against the PLO and LNM in Lebanon, and under some Saudi pressure (including the threat of a suspension of financial aid and the withdrawal of Saudi troops from the Golan Heights), Asad announced his willingness to attend. At the same time, Syria announced a Lebanese ceasefire.
It was at Riyadh that the elements of a settlement at last came into place. The summit participants-King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Sabah of Kuwait, President Asad of Syria, President Sadat of Egypt, President Sarkis of Lebanon, and Yasir 'Arafat, Chairman of the PLO-agreed on a series of measures to end the civil war. Chief among these was a ceasefire, to be enforced by a thirty thousand-strong Arab Deterrent Force; and full application of the Cairo Agreement and its annexes, to be overseen by a quadripartite Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian-Kuwaiti committee. In addition, the PLO affirmed its "respect for Lebanon's sovereignty and well-being and its non-interference in its domestic affairs," while Lebanon guaranteed the "security and activities of the PLO within the framework of the Cairo Agreement and its appendices." A detailed timetable sketched the process whereby militias would be disarmed and life in Lebanon normalized. On 27 October 1976 the resolutions passed at Riyadh were approved by nineteen of twenty-one Arab leaders attending the special Arab League summit in Cairo.59
Behind these two agreements, it was soon apparent that inter-Arab differences had been reconciled at the PLO and LNM's expense; that only now, having seen Syria apparently achieve the goal of containing Palestinian and Lebanese revolutionism, were Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others prepared to rein in Syria and disengage other Arab states from the Lebanese conflict. Egypt had achieved, as the price for acceptance of Syria's actions, unspoken acceptance of Sinai II. Syria won implicit pan-Arab endorsement of its actions. As was the case with the Arab peace-keeping force that had preceded it, the new Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) turned out to be an almost entirely Syrian affair, consisting largely of those Syrian troops already in Lebanon. The agreements made no mention anywhere of the reforms the LNM had fought to achieve; nor did they substantially relax Syrian political pressure on the PLO.
But at least a lasting ceasefire had been achieved to put an end to the worst of the fighting. The PLO leadership and Junblat reluctantly endorsed the settlement. The civil war, for now at least, was over.
1. According to the Phalange version of events, the bus contained armed ALF guerillas, firing weapons. Most PLO accounts describe the passengers as civilians, although 'Abd al-Rahim Ahmad of the ALF states that they were ALF members. Interview, Amman, 28 December 1986. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, p. 164 suggests that the incident was not the responsibility of the Phalange, but rather a LNP-engineered provocation.
2. The following account of the Lebanese civil war is drawn from: Edward P. Haley and Lewis W. Snider, eds., Lebanon in Crisis: Participants and Issues (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1979), Salibi, Crossroads to Civil War; Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War; Petran, The Struggle Over Lebanon; Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon; and Antoine Khuwayri's Hawadith lubnan 1975 [The Events of Lebanon 1975], (Beirut: Manshurat Dar al-Abjadiyya, 1976), and al-Harb fi lubnan 1976 [The War in Lebanon 1976], 3 volumes (Beirut: Manshurat Dar al-Abjadiyya, 1977).
3. Statement by the General Secretariat of the Arab Front for Participating in the Palestinian Revolution, al-Muharrir, 26 April 1975, p. 3, in IDP 1975, pp. 407-408; Pierre Jumayyil quoted in al-Nahar, 30 April 1975, p. 2 (JPRS).
4. al-Hawadith (Beirut), 3 October 1975, p. 9 (JPRS).
5. Zuhayr Muhsin, al-Tali'a (Damascus), 4 November 1975, p. 4 in IDP 1975, p.504.
6. On Syrian views, decision-making, and policy during the civil war see: Adeed I. Dawisha, Syria and the Lebanese Crisis (London: Macmillan Press, 1980); Karen Rasler, "Conflict and Escalation in Lebanon: A Dynamic Analysis of Civil War and Intervention," (Ph.D. thesis, Florida State University, 1981); Naomi Joy Weinberger, Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975-76 Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).
7. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, p. 175; George Habash in PFLP Bulletin, July-August 1975, p. 3; Haytham Ayyubi, "Eight Israeli gains from the Civil War in Lebanon," Shu'un filastiniyya 60 (October/November 1976): 26-31 [in Arabic]; al-Hurriyya, 7 July 1975, pp. 6-8 (JPRS). The appointment of G. McMurtie Godley as US ambassador to Lebanon in 1974 was also cited as evidence of a plot in the making. Prior to his Lebanese posting, Godley had served as US ambassador to Laos, where he had been involved in US covert activities.
8. Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon, pp. 90-92, 124. According to Ze'ev Schiff and Ehud Ya'ari, the first formal Phalange-Israel contact came in March 1976. Israel's Lebanon War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984). There was some initial opposition within the Phalange to dealings with Israel, although these muted as the Lebanese right's position grew more tenuous. Contacts between Chamoun and Israel were considerably older, possibly dating back to the 1958 civil war. These were reactivated after the May crisis of 1973, and cemented by a secret meeting between Camille Chamoun and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1976. Randal, Going All the Way, pp. 200-201.
9. Nabil Sha'th in al-Nahar, 4 May 1975, p. 12 (JPRS).
10. ARR, 16-30 April 1975, p. 252, 263, 1-15 May 1975, p. 280, 1-15 June 1975, p. 348. The PLO leadership's desire to avoid provocative incidents was made clear in July, following the kidnapping of Col. Henry Morgan, a US military officer, in Beirut. Although an unknown Lebanese group claimed responsibility for the act, an internal PLO investigation revealed that the PSF and PFLP-GC were actually involved. When these groups refused to respond to requests that Morgan be freed, the PLO issued a strongly-worded statement, citing the organizations by name, condemning the act as one of "anarchy and irresponsibility" and vowing that the revolution would "take all necessary measures to protect its gains, security, and stability." Morgan was subsequently released July 12. New York Times, 10 July 1975, p. 1; ARR, 1-15 July 1975, p. 400.
11. The PLA contingent from the Hittin Brigade was deployed following an agreement between Karami and Zuhayr Muhsin; it later withdrew September 17 after a direct request from Franjiyya to Asad. ARR, 1-15 September 1975, p. 499, 1-15 December 1975, p. 662. 'Arafat, Hani al-Hasan, and 'Ali Hasan Salama of Fateh, Zuhayr Muhsin of al-Sa'iqa, Yasir 'Abd Rabbu of the DFLP, and Tawfiq al-Safadi of the Higher Committee for Palestinian Affairs in Lebanon were among those who took an active part in the proceedings of the Committee.
12. Quiet lines of communication were kept open through Fateh's 'Ali Hasan Salama. In his first and only full press interview in April 1976, Salama (assassinated by Israel in January 1979) remarked of these contacts: "Ignorance breeds emnity. Many people on the other side are convinced they are threatened. That's why you always find them on the defensive. They genuinely believe that we want to take Lebanon away from them. It is up to us to prove to them that we love Lebanon as much as Shaykh Pierre [al-Jumayyil] and Sa'id 'Aql do.... [Since the start of the civil war] we have not missed a single opportunity to intervene or mediate to stop the fighting. This is not a tactical effort. It is part of our strategy to put an end to the internecine strife in Lebanon. Even when we had to fight back in self-defense, we were fully aware that dialogue was essential." Monday Morning (Beirut), 29 January-4 February 1979, pp. 16-26. The Fateh/PLO leadership also generally accepted the need (rejected at this time by Junblat) for Phalangist representatives on the various ceasefire committees. al-Hawadith, 3 October 1975, p. 9 (JPRS).
13. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, pp. 166-170.
14. Filastin al-thawra, 29 June 1975, p. 7, 9, in IDP 1975, pp. 428-429.
15. al-Nahar, 15 October 1975, in IDP 1975, p. 492.
16. Zuhayr Muhsin, in ARR, 16-31 July 1975, p. 146, 16-31 October 1975, p. 579; al-Tali'a, 4 November 1975, in IDP 1975, p. 405.
17. Kamal Joumblatt [Junblat], I Speak for Lebanon, (London: Zed Press, 1982), p. 112.
18. PFLP Bulletin, July-August 1975, p. 3.
19. Interview with Abu Layla (DFLP Politburo), Damascus, 10 February 1987. Similar analyses were voiced by Sa'id 'Abd al-Hadi and Dr. Jamil Hilal of the DFLP Central Committee; interviews, Damascus, 18, 20 December 1986.
20. al-Hurriyya, 7 July 1975, pp. 6-8 (JPRS).
21. ARR, 16-30 April 1975, p. 251; MERIP, "Lebanon Explodes: Battles of Survival," MERIP Reports 44 (February 1976): 8; Communique issued after a meeting of the Palestinian Rejection Front, Ila al-Amam (Beirut), 21 November 1975, pp. 8-9, in IDP 1975, p. 516.
22. "Memorandum of the Standing Conference of the Superior-Generals of the Monastic Orders of Lebanon submitted to the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies," al-Nahar, 7 November 1975, in Journal of Palestine Studies 5, 1-2 (Autumn 1975-Winter 1976): 295-297.
23. al-Nahar, 14 January 1976, in IDP 1976, pp. 360-361.
24. Sa'd Sayil on Voice of Palestine 9 January 1976 (FBIS); also Voice of Palestine (Algiers), 14 January 1976, in ARR, 1-15 January 1976, p. 11.
25. By this time the PLO could field about 10-15,000 guerillas in Lebanon, supported by a similar number of militia and up to 3,000 PLA troops, for a total of about 25,000. Within the LNM, the largest forces were contributed by the PSP (about 2,500 fighters and up to 15,000 militia); the LCP (over 2,000 fighters and militia); the SSNP (up to 2,000); and Murabitun (over 1,000). The two Ba'th parties each contributed a further 1,000 or more each, and the remaining leftist and Nasirite groups in the coalition some 23,000 altogether. The largest rightist militias were the Phalange (over 15,000 armed members); the LNP (3,500); al-Tanzim (1,500); the Zgharta Liberation Army (1,500); and the Guardians of the Cedars (1,000). About 20 smaller rightist militias also existed. Before its disintegration early in 1976, the Lebanese Army consisted of about 19,000 troops. Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon, p. 68, 71, 82; Odeh, Lebanon: Dynamics of Conflict, pp. 213-218.
26. Text of the Constitutional Declaration in Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon, pp. 189-191.
27. Communique No. 1 issued by Brigadier Ahdab, al-Nahar, 12 March 1976, in IDP 1976, p. 384.
28. Junblat, I Speak for Lebanon, pp. 15, 74, 113, 115.
29. ARR, 16-31 March 1976, p. 186.
30. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, p.181.
31. Interview with Khalil al-Wazir, 29 December 1986.
32. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, p. 183.
33. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, pp. 186-187; interview with Yasir 'Arafat, 30 December 1986.
34. Interviews with Dr. Nabil Sha'th, 9 November 1986, and with Salah Khalaf, 24 January 1987. The debate within Fateh over its "Lebanese" policy, and in particular the extent of its support for Junblat and the National Movement, was among the factors that led to the resignation of Khalid al-Hasan from the Fateh Central Committee. Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization, pp. 209-210.
35. Interview with Abu Layla, 10 February 1987. The text of Salah Khalaf's "Junya" speech of 22 May 1976 can be found in Khuwayri, al-Harb fi Lubnan, vol. 2, pp. 195-196. Khalaf himself later protested he had been misquoted; interview, 24 January 1987.
36. ARR, 16-31 March 1976, p. 202; "Pax Syriana vs. Democracy in Lebanon," PFLP Bulletin, March-April 1976, p. 1. Sa'iqa response on Radio Damascus, 25 March 1976, in IDP 1976, p. 388.
37. In fact, the acrimony between Junblat and Asad at their March 27 "reconcilliation" meeting only served to cement their rift. For Khalaf's, Junblat's, and Asad's versions of these and other meetings in March and April, see: Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, pp. 183-187; Junblat, I Speak for Lebanon, pp. 81-82; Asad's speech to Syrian local councils, Radio Damascus, 20 July 1976 (FBIS), also in Itamar Rabinovitch, The War for Lebanon, 1970-1985, rev. ed., (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), pp. 201-236.
38. The text of the agreement, published in al-Safir (Beirut), 17 April 1986, in Journal of Palestine Studies 5, 3-4 (Spring-Summer 1976): 275. The Palestinian delegation also included Khalaf, Faruq Qaddumi, Nimr Salih, Zuhayr Muhsin, and Nayif Hawatima. Despite its support for the accord, the National Movement's reservations are evident in the communique it issued April 17 announcing approval. Beirut Radio, 17 April 1986, in IDP 1976, pp. 410-411.
39. ARR, 16-30 April 1976, p. 271, 15 May 1976, p. 302; New York Times, 6 May 1976, p. 1; interview with Salah Khalaf, 24 January 1987. Opposition to PLO-Egyptian rapprochement was noted by PFLP spokesman Bassam Abu Sharif in Monday Morning, 9-15 May 1976, pp. 12-13.
40. WAFA, 9 May 1976, in ARR, 1-15 May 1976, p. 287.
41. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, pp. 187-188; ARR, 1-15 May 1976, p. 287; interview with Khalil al-Wazir, 30 December 1986; communique issued by the command of the Palestinian revolution on the Tripoli incidents, WAFA, 14 May 1976, in Journal of Palestine Studies 5, 3-4 (Spring-Summer 1976): 281-282; Filastin al-thawra, 31 May 1976. Up until this point Fateh/PLO criticism of Syria had been restrained not only by the desire to preserve relations, but also by the very real threat of retaliation by the Syrian intelligence services.
42. Dawisha, Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, p. 135.
43. WAFA, 2 June 1976, p. 9, in IDP 1976, p. 426.
44. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, p. 188; al-Safir, 8 June 1976, p. 1 (JPRS); Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon, p. 82, 169; interview with Khalil al-Wazir, 30 December 1986. According to al-Wazir, prior arrangements had been made by Fateh with many Sa'iqa cadres and officers to assure their defection in the event of a confrontation. He also maintained that elements of the PFLP-GC, as well as al-Sa'iqa, were part of the Syrian plan. In any event, Syrian intervention provoked a split within the PFLP-GC: although its leader, Ahmad Jibril, was generally sympathetic to Damascus, a large portion of the organization's membership fought alongside the PLO against Syria under the leadership of Muhammad al-Abbas. In 1977 the latter group formed its own organization, the Palestine Liberation Front, led by Abbas and Tal'at Ya'qub.
45. The defence of Sidon was commanded by then Major Sa'id Musa Muragha (Abu Musa) of Fateh, commander of the Joint Forces in the south. Later in 1977 he was shot and wounded in Nabatiyya by unknown (possibly Syrian) gunmen, but survived to become a Colonel and Deputy Chief of the Joint Forces Central Operations Room, under Brig. Gen. Sa'd Sayil. In 1983 Abu Musa would lead an unsuccessful rebellion against 'Arafat's leadership.
46. al-Thawra (Baghdad), 2, 9 June 1976, quoted in Dawisha, Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, p. 136.
47. Time, 22 August 1977, p. 23; New York Times, 1 September 1976, p. 2, and 2 September 1976, p. 2. Israel's interest lay in the continuance of the conflict, not Syria's outright victory over the PLO. According to Khalaf, this led to occasional relaxations of the Israeli blockade so that fighting would not "end prematurely for lack of weapons." Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, p. 193.
48. Initial Israeli contacts with Christian Lebanese soldiers in the southern village of al-Qulay'a in 1975 led to the opening of the "Good Fence" by early 1976, and military aid later that spring. For a detailed account, see Beate Hamizrachi, The Emergence of the South Lebanon Security Belt: Major Saad Haddad and the Ties with Israel 1975-1978 (New York: Praeger, 1988), pp. 63-75.
49. US position in New York Times, 2 June 1976, p. 1; Robert W. Stookley, "The United States," in Haley and Snider, eds., Lebanon in Crisis, pp. 225-248; Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon, pp. 87-89. On the Soviet position, see: Galia Golan, The Soviet Union and the PLO, (New York: Praeger, 1980), pp. 184, 190, 192-193; Darwisha, Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, p. 137; Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, pp. 193-194.
50. On Chamoun's motives in launching the Tall al-Za'tar siege see his memoires, Crise au Liban (Beirut, 1977). The PLO charged that Syria assisted the siege, pointing to the presence of a Syrian Colonel in the LF operations room, Syrian fire support, and Sa'iqa's role as a "fifth column" in the camp. WAFA, 12, 14, 18 August 1976; Tall al-Za'tar (Beirut: PLO Unified Information, 1977). Similarly, members of (pro-Syrian) Amal played a role in the fall of the Nab'a area of Beirut to the LF in August 1976; Norton, Amal and the Shi'a, pp. 48, 197.
51. Text of the agreement and joint communique, al-Ba'th (Damascus), 30 July 1976, in IDP 1976, pp. 459-461. Because 'Arafat refused to travel to Syria until Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon, the Palestinian delegation was headed by Faruq Qaddumi. It included Yasir 'Abd al-Rabbu (DFLP), Talal Naji (PFLP-GC), and 'Abd al-Muhsin Abu Mayzar of the PLO Executive Committee; Mahmud 'Abbas (Abu Mazin) and Muhammad Ghunaym (Abu Mahir) of the Fateh Central Committee, Salah Ra'fat of the DFLP Politburo, and Fadl Sharuru of the PFLP-GC Politburo.
52. Rejection Front in ARR, 1-15 August 1976, p. 498, 16-31 August 1976, p. 527; Qaddumi in WAFA, 31 July 1976, in IDP 1976, p. 461.
53. For details of these meetings as seen by a Phalange politburo member who served as one of Sarkis' chief aides, see: Karim Pakradouni, La paix manquée: le mandat d'Elias Sarkis (1976-1982), 2nd ed., (Paris: Editions FMA, 1984), pp. 36-38.
54. Text of letter from PLO Chairman 'Arafat to President Sarkis, WAFA, 23 September 1976, p. 2, in IDP 1976, pp. 477-478.
55. Dawisha, Syria and the Lebanese Crisis, pp. 158-159.
56. Hani al-Hasan, Sa'd Sayil, and Abu Firas of Fateh represented the PLO at the reconvened Shtura meeting, at which Syria demanded that the pro-Syrian National Front, rather than Junblat and the National Movement, henceforth be accepted as the representative of the progressive movement in Lebanon. Salah Khalaf, in al-Hawadith, 15 October 1976, in IDP 1976, pp. 486-488. 'Arafat was later to claim that the October 12 Syrian offensive was launched to abort a break-through in negotiations between Sarkis and the PLO, thus establishing a military fait accompli for the forthcoming Arab summit conference. The Middle East, December 1976, pp. 16-20.
57. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land, pp. 195-196; see also Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization, pp. 74-75, 78; Hart, Arafat, pp. 428-429.
58. On the latter point, Khalid al-Hasan later commented "Faysal was our protector, and Faysal had the power and influence within the Arab world to prevent Kissinger from turning Lebanon into his private killing ground. I am not saying that Faysal would have stopped the civil war from starting. I am saying that if he had lived, he would have used his influence with other Arab leaders to bring the situation under control..." Hart, Arafat, p.417. The DFLP and PFLP were more suspicious of the Saudi role, suggesting that it had an active interest in weakening the resistance by dragging out the Lebanese conflict.
59. For the text of the Riyadh summit resolutions, see Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon, Appendix IV. In his speech to the summit conference, Sarkis placed the primary blame for the civil war on the Palestinians, stating that "the present conflict did not stem from social or political demands but from the fact that certain members of the resistance did not abide by the existing agreements." AWW, 24 December 1977, p. 25. Resolutions of the Arab League summit conference, al-Ahram (Cairo), 27 October 1976, in IDP 1976, pp. 492-493.