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Lebanese Civil War

Middle East [1975-1990]

By Ayesh Perera, Last Updated: Sept 30, 2021

The Lebanese Civil War which lasted from the 13th of April 1975 until the 13th of October 1990, was a multifaceted armed conflict in Lebanon which resulted in nearly 200,000 fatalities and the exodus of nearly 1 million people from the country. The domestic belligerents of the war included various armed groups with Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim and Druze affiliations, and the external parties included Syria, Israel, and a multinational force comprising France, Italy and the United States. The war concluded with the Taif Agreement which altered the representational balance of the various religious groups while calling for the disarmament of the militias.

The Martyr's Square statue in Beirut, 1982, during the civil war

The Martyr's Square statue in Beirut, 1982, during the civil war

Key Facts and Summary
  • The Lebanese Civil War [1975–1990] was a multifaceted armed conflict in Lebanon which included various armed groups with Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim and Druze affiliations, as well as external parties such as Syria, Israel, France, Italy, Britain and the United States.
  • Following a massacre of Christians in the mid-1800s in Damascus and Mount Lebanon under Ottoman rule, the French would establish the state of Greater Lebanon as a haven for Maronite Christians.
  • Lebanon’s independence from the French resulted in a multi-confessional state which distributed various political offices among the nation’s different religious groups, with Christians possessing a slight advantage in representation reflecting the demographics at the time.
  • Tension between the Christians and the Muslims would grow due to the influx of predominantly Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees, the desire of many Muslim leaders to join the United Arab Republic, and the tendency of Christian leaders to seek Western allies.
  • The situation would worsen following the Cairo Agreement which surrendered Lebanese territories to Palestinian militants, and Black September which raised the influx of Palestinians to Lebanon.
  • The attempt to assassinate the Christian Phalangist leader Pierre Gemayel apparently by Palestinian militants would mark the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War which would soon escalate into a mostly sectarian conflict between rightwing Christian groups and leftwing Muslim militias.
  • Shifting loyalties as well as intra-party killings on both sides would characterize the war; Syria’s initial intervention on the Maronite side, and its subsequent shift was one such example.
  • Israeli as well as US interventions, however, would consistently aid the Christian militias at crucial moments, and the US in particular would incur severe blows from Hezbollah as a result.
  • Massacres were committed against all sides with little attention to human rights, and the war resulted in the deaths of more than 150,000 people.
  • The Taif Agreement, negotiated in Saudi Arabia, ended the conflict; the political power distribution was altered in favor of the Muslims, and a general pardon was granted for the atrocities committed during the war.


Prior to the Civil War, Lebanon had been a multi-sectarian country with Shia Muslims occupying the east and south, Sunni majorities living in the coastal cities, Christians mostly occupying the coastal cities and the mountains, and the Druze population living for the most part in the mountains.

In 1860 during Ottoman rule, a conflict had instigated the massacring of Christians in Damascus and Mount Lebanon. This resulted in nearly 6,000 French soldiers being sent to protect the Christians.

Later, the French would take control of the region and establish the state of Greater Lebanon which would remain a safe haven for the Maronite Christians while still being home to a significant Muslim population.


While it is difficult to attribute the outbreak of hostilities to a single event, the failed attempt to assassinate the Maronite Christian Phalangist Pierre Gemayel by Palestinian militants could be construed as the spark that set the nation ablaze. The tension between rightwing Christian militias and leftwing Muslim militias had been growing for a long time for a variety of reasons including the occupation of Lebanese regions by the predominantly Muslim Palestinian militants. While the assassination attempt might have instigated the war, it was not the sole reason for the conflict.

Unlike most other countries in the Middle East, Lebanon has strong legal protections for religious minorities. The diversity of religious traditions in the nation attests to this. However, it should also be noted that even though Jews had historically enjoyed safety in Lebanon, especially since the Lebanese Civil War, the situation would change. Kidnappings of Jewish businessmen by Hezbollah, and other forms of harassment have drastically reduced the Jewish population of Lebanon.

Hezbollah, generally regarded as the world’s strongest non-state actor, is considered to be more powerful than the Lebanese Army. As a hybrid force, sponsored chiefly by Iran, it maintains conventional as well as unconventional capabilities with around 25,000 full-time militants and probably around 30,000 reservists. Despite its constant engagements with Israel, it is considered to be both qualitatively and quantitatively inferior to the Israeli Defense Forces.

Amidst WWII, the Free French Forces led by Charles de Gaulle invaded Lebanon in 1941 to defeat the Vichy French troops aligned with the Nazis. De Gaulle would agree to grant independence to both Lebanon and Syria, and Lebanon would subsequently become an independent state in 1943.

In the afterglow of independence, an unwritten agreement known as the National Pact emerged following negotiations between Sunni, Shia and Maronite leaders. The Maronite Christians had to promise not to ask for Western intervention while the Muslims had to abandon any aspirations to unite with Syria.

A multi-confessional state, which would distribute various political offices among members of different faiths subsequently emerged. According to the National Pact, consequently, the President would always be a Maronite, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Greek Orthodox Christians.

Additionally, while the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces would always be a Druze while the Commander would be a Maronite Catholic. The Lebanese Parliament was organized with a 6:5 ratio between Christians to Muslims.

This roughly reflected the Christian majority at the time based on a 1932 census. The influx of Palestinian Arabs due to the Israeli-Arab conflicts as well as the exodus of many Christians to the West would subsequently alter this demographic makeup and engender many political problems.

The 1958 Crisis

On the 1st of February 1958, Egypt and Syria united and formed the United Arab Republic. Many Lebanese Muslims subsequently supported Lebanon’s incorporation into the United Arab Republic.

The rightwing and openly anti-communist Camille Chamoun who was a Christian, was President of Lebanon during this time. He withheld his support from Egypt during the Suez Crisis and publicly endorsed Eisenhower’s policy against communism.

Moreover, the Maronites opposed unification with Egypt and Syria, and sought to keep Lebanon as an independent state. The internal tension between the Lebanese Muslims and Christians was further fomented by Syrian and Egyptian deployment of proxies into the conflict.

Thus, Khalil Wazir and Yasser Arafat, the founder of Fatah, would fly into Lebanon to add fuel to the fire, while Lebanese Shia militants started receiving Syrian weapons. Finally, in May 1958, after a Muslim mob burned down the US Information Service library, an armed rebellion erupted.

The United Nations Security Council accused the United Arab Republic of meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs, and the UN Secretary-General as well as members of the UN Truce Supervision Organization were soon dispatched. Meanwhile Chamoun requested US military intervention, and President Eisenhower launched Operation Blue Bat.

Soon, more than 14,000 American troops including Marines and Army personnel arrived in Lebanon to stabilize the situation. The US and the Lebanese Armed forces managed to successfully occupy the Beirut International Airport and the Port of Beirut, and the situation soon improved.

The Lebanese Army General Fouad Chehab was subsequently elected President as the ‘consensus’ candidate in the same year, and Lebanon began to enjoy a period of relative peace.

The Cairo Agreement

Though the 1960s saw no major crises in Lebanon, the period marked the organization of Palestinian militants in South Lebanon. About 400,000 Palestinian refugees would occupy Lebanese camps, and beginning in 1968, the Palestinian Liberation Organization[PLO] would launch raids into Israel from Lebanon.

Israel retaliated with raids of her own as well as support for Lebanese groups to deal the Palestinian militants. The Palestinians occupying the camps were armed and the Lebanese military was too weak to expel the militants.

A series of clashes between the Palestinians and the Lebanese military would result in Palestinian control over the camps, and the Lebanese government was compelled to agree to the 1969 Cairo Agreement.

Brokered by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, its terms stipulated that while the camps would remain under Lebanese sovereignty, Palestinians therein would be governed by the Palestinian Armed Struggle Command, and Lebanon could not stop Palestinian attacks on Israel from Lebanese territory. The Agreement, in effect, established a state within a state in favor of the Palestinian militants.

Black September

Following the Six Day War in 1967, the Palestinian militants operating in the West Bank moved to Jordan. They would launch attacks against Israel from Jordanian territories just as the militants in Lebanon were doing.

Despite the initial collaboration between the PLO and the Jordanian forces, gradually a rift emerged. As Arab support for the Palestinian militants grew, the fedayeen began to disregard local laws and openly call for the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy beginning around 1970.

Eventually, two attempts by the Palestinians to assassinate King Hussein would result in violent confrontations between the Jordanian Army and the fedayeen in June 1970. Finally, on the 12th of September 1970, in what would be known as the Dawson’s Field hijackings, the Palestinian militants hijacked and destroyed three airliners.

This event was the last straw for the Jordanian King. He responded by declaring marshal law and initiating massive military action against the Palestinian militants. On the 17th of September 1970, the Jordanian forces surrounded the regions wherein significant numbers of militants abode and shelled the suspected Palestinian refugee camps.

Heavy fighting ensued, and eventually, several months later, the Jordanian military drove out the Palestinian militants. The latter would head via Syria to Lebanon. About 3,400 Palestinians were massacred in the conflict while approximately 537 Jordanians lost their lives. Having forsaken their main operational base, the surviving Palestinian fighters arrived in Southern Lebanon to regroup.

Demographic Tension

The aggrandized Palestinian presence in Lebanon would simultaneously intensify the Lebanese-Israeli skirmishes and embolden the left-leaning Lebanese National Movement [LNM] comprising many pro-Arab Muslims opposing the right-leaning Maronite-dominated government.

The Lebanese Sunni Muslims’ apparent solidarity with the Palestinians accompanied aims to alter the balance of power in the government. While the LNM did indeed contain secular factions advocating democratic order, they were overshadowed by the Islamists calling for religious rule by Muslim clerics.

Thus, the ostensibly left-leaning movement would have little room for the communists, while Fatah [which constituted 80% of the PLO’s membership] and Al-Tawhid [the Tripoli Islamist Movement] would become its primary driving force.

Beginning in the 1970s, the PLO would control vast swaths of southern Lebanon, having taken over parts of Tyre and Sidon. The PLO would also alter the western part of Beirut into a Palestinian stronghold. Far from behaving as welcome refugees in a foreign land, the Palestinian militants would set up check points which indigenous Shiite populations were compelled to pass through.

Additionally, with the Arab funding it received, the PLO also trained and armed Lebanese Sunni gangs to further its aims.

Outbreak of Hostilities

The spring of 1975 saw minor confrontations between the Christian Phalange and the pro-Arab Lebanese National Movement.

Finally, on the 13th of April 1975, around 10.30am, a gang of gunmen approach the Church of Notre Dame de la Delivrance in predominantly Maronite Ain el-Rammaneh in 2 cars rigged with stickers and posters of the PLO faction known as Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP].

The congregation, by now, had gathered outside the church. The gunmen fired at the VIPs there. Their target seemed to have been the Kataeb [Phalangist] Party founder Pierre Gemayel. Although Gemayel escaped unharmed, 3 of his bodyguards were killed.

The men of the Kataeb Regulatory Forces [KRF] returned fire, but the attackers managed to flee. Outraged by the attempt on their leader, the Phalangists decided to immediately retaliate. Shortly after midday, a group of KRF men led by Pierre Gemayel’s younger son Bashir Gemayel, just outside the same church, ambushed a bus returning from a rally held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command.

The Phalangists fired upon the bus carrying Palestinian militants as well as Lebanese sympathizers including children and women. 27 of the passengers were killed and the incident immediately sparked heavy fighting between the KRF on one side, and the Palestinian militants and their allies of the LNM on the other. In just 3 days, over 300 people were dead.

The Sunni Muslim Prime Minister Rashid al-Sulh deployed the Lebanese Internal Security Forces to diffuse the situation, but the attempt would prove to be a failure. Meanwhile, Pierre Gemayel publicly opposed to abide by the authority of the Lebanese government, and defended the KRF gunmen.

Sectarian Violence

The sporadic violence of the ensuing months would escalate with the Battle of the Hotels beginning in October 1975. The fierce exchanges of artillery and rocket fire from various hotel rooms and rooftops would devastate the hotel district of downtown Beirut.

The fighting here, which would last till April the following year, would result in the Green Line dividing Beirut into a Christian-dominated eastern sector and a Muslim-dominated western sector.

Meanwhile on the 6th of December 1975, also known as Black Saturday, about 300 Druze and Muslims were massacred by a group of Phalangists led by Joseph Saade, whose son had been assassinated along with 3 other Phalangists on the Fanar road by Muslims.

The massacre further heightened the violence, and hastened the approach of an all-out war. Nearly a month later, on the 18th of January 1976, an attack was launched against the PLO-controlled Karantina district in the predominantly Christian East Beirut by the mostly rightwing and Christian Lebanese Front, which comprised the KRF, the Guardians of the Cedars [GoC], the Lebanese Youth Movement [LYM] and the NLP Tiger militia.

Approximately 1,500 were massacred, for the most part by the Phalangists, GoCs and the Tiger militia in their attempt to secure Karantina. Two days later, on the 20th of January 1976, the Palestinian militants retaliated by attacking the Maronite Christian town of Damour. After executing 20 Phalangist men, the Palestinian militants lined up many civilians against the wall and murdered them with machine gunfire.

Between 150 and 582 people were likely killed in the massacre. These massacres resulted in an exodus of Christians and Muslims to regions under the control of their own sects. Moreover, while the Palestinian Liberation Organization became increasingly aligned with the LNM, many of the remaining left-leaning Maronites abandoned their support of the LNM. The conflict soon developed into a sectarian religious war.

Syria Intervenes

On the 22nd of January 1976, President Hafez al-Assad of Syria brokered a ceasefire between the two warring parties.

Despite the truce, the violence escalated, and in March 1976, President Suleiman Frangieh of Lebanon formally requested Syrian military intervention to diffuse the situation. Finally, on the 1st of June 1976, 12,000 Syrian troops came into Lebanon and launched assaults on leftwing and Palestinian militants.

On the 12th of August, with the help of Syria, the Maronite fighters overwhelmed the Palestinian militias defending Tel al-Zaatar, a Palestinian refugee camp. About 1,500 armed PLO militants were estimated to have been inside the camp, and the massive offensive resulted in the massacring of nearly 3,000 Palestinians and the displacement of many refugees.

Syria would, as a result of the event, draw heavy criticism from the Arab world, and in October 1976, would accept a proposal by the Arab League. According to the proposal, Syria would be able to keep 40,000 troops with the responsibility of disentangling the warring factions and restoring peace.

Israeli Assistance

It should be noted that Israel too, by this point in the Civil War, had started actively assisting the Maronites with tanks, arms and military advisers.

Additionally, on the 19th of October, the Artillery Corps of the Israeli Defense Forces would fire shells to repel a combined PLO and Communist militia heading to assault the Maronite village of Aishiya.

Unlike other Arab countries, Lebanese Jews had enjoyed relative peace and freedom, and this had been attributed to Lebanon’s large non-Muslim population. Lebanon was also the only Arab nation whose Jewish population would increase following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. In turn, most Lebanese Christians have long viewed an ally in the Jewish State.

A Fragile Respite

Along with the Arab League’s proposal, the nation experienced a period of relative but uneasy tranquility.

Lebanon was by now effectively divided with Christians controlling East Beirut as well as parts of Mount Lebanon, and the PLO and Muslim militants governing southern Lebanon and the western parts of Beirut.

In East Beirut, the Maronite leadership formed the Lebanese Forces headed by Bashir Gemayel, out of a loose coalition of Christian militias. The calm was shaken by the assassination of Kamal Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese National Movement, in March 1977.

As the founder of the Progressive Socialist Party, and a practitioner of the Druze faith, he had been a relatively moderate voice despite his support for the PLO. Following his death, the anti-Maronite coalition of Druze, Sunni, Palestinian and Shi’a groups would be torn apart.

The assassination was widely blamed on the government of Syria. Syria had never recognized Lebanon as a sovereign nation following its independence from the French, and the Syrian intervention in the Civil War was more likely to have been inspired by a desire to incorporate Lebanon into its territory than any altruistic intention to bring peace.

Hafez al-Assad’s strategy of divide and conquer, which he would apply even to the Maronite coalition would further reveal the motive behind the Syrian intervention.

Lebanon civil war map 1976

Lebanon civil war map 1976

The Hundred Days’ War

Bashir Gemayel who was heading the predominantly Christian Lebanese Forces, began a policy called ‘unification of the rifle’ in 1977 in order to further unify the Christian militias.

Bashir however, soon offended Syria. The unwillingness of the Arab Deterrent Force [ADF] , mainly comprising Syrian troops, to either suppress, or allow the Christian militias to suppress the PLO militants would help deteriorate the relationship between the Lebanese Forces and the Syrian government.

In February 1978, following heated arguments over the establishing of an ADF checkpoint, a shootout occurred. Members of the predominantly Christian Army of Free Lebanon [AFL], which was a breakaway group of the Lebanese Army, took several Syrian soldiers prisoner.

The Syrian troops retaliated by shelling the Christian region of Beirut for 100 days. The Christian militias however fought back ferociously, and the Syrian Army was expelled eventually from East Beirut.

Operation Litani

In the meantime, on the 11th of March 1978, 11 Palestinian terrorists from Fatah infiltrated a beach in Northern Israel and hijacked two buses along with their passengers. The Israeli police managed to stop the bus.

However, lacking training to carry out hostage rescue operations, the police officers broke the bus windows and yelled, asking the passengers to jump. A Palestinian militant however, shot the escaping hostages. In the firefight which followed, the bus erupted into flames. 38 civilians got killed, and the PLO claimed responsibility for the assault.

Israel soon retaliated with the lethal Operation Litani. On the 14th of March, Israel launched its invasion of Lebanon to weaken Palestinian militant strongholds and to defend the Lebanese Jews and Christians.

As intended, the PLO soon had to retreat north of the Litani River, and the operation marked a significant military victory for Israel. Moreover, as the famous Lebanese American activist Brigitte Gabriel notes, the Israeli invasion would also save the lives of many Christians, including those of her family, whom the Islamist militias had apparently planned to massacre.

The Israelis also met with Saad Haddad’s predominantly Christian Lebanese militia and transferred American weapons to the Christian fighters without the approval of the United States.

Israel’s actions would draw the criticism of both the UN and the US, and the Israeli forces had to subsequently withdraw from many parts of Lebanon.

The Battle of Zahleh

Between 1980 and 1981, the Lebanese Forces, aided by the predominantly Christian townspeople of Zahleh, would battle against the Syrian Armed Forces aided by the PLO for nearly seven months.

Syria saw the control of Zahleh by the Israeli-backed Christian militias as a serious threat to Syria’s national security on account of the town’s close proximity to the Beirut-Damascus highway.

When the Syrian troops surrounded Zahleh from all sides and started kidnapping its inhabitants, the Christian fighters retaliated. In just two days, the Lebanese Forces would destroy 20 Syrian tanks. Despite the mammoth Syrian war machine, the well-trained special forces units of the Lebanese Christian militia would fight back and eventually gain a strategic victory.

The pro-Palestinian Syrian Forces suffered nearly 300 fatalities while the Lebanese Forces suffered around 200 fatalities.

Operation Peace for Galilee

Following an attempt by a splinter group of Fatah on the 3rd of June 1982 to assassinate the Israeli diplomat Shlomo Argov in the UK, Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Palestinian militant targets in West Beirut, leading to more than 100 casualties.

The PLO launched a counterattack from Lebanon with artillery and rockets. On the 6th of June, the Israeli forces launched Operation Peace for Galilee, in which, with the support of the Christian militias, the Israelis swiftly drove 25 miles into Lebanon, and entered East Beirut.

The objective of the operation was to destroy PLO strongholds and establish a security zone capable of ensuring the protection of northern Israel against the Palestinian rockets. Soon, the Israeli forces surrounded and started bombing West Beirut wherein around 16,000 Palestinian militants were holding fortified positions.

Disaster seemed inevitable for the PLO, and Arafat sought desperately via negotiations to salvage his militants. Finally, following an impassioned plea from President Reagan, the Israelis stopped their bombardment and permitted the PLO to depart from Beirut and eventually from Lebanon under the protection of a multinational force comprising French, US and Italian troops.

The western multinational force which entered Beirut on the 21st of August 1982, would remain in Lebanon for a while, and would comprise US, Italian, French and British units. They would oversee the evacuation of some Syrian troops, in addition to that of the PLO.

Additionally, the US would also train the pro-Christian Lebanese Forces. This would result in assaults against the Americans by many Islamist groups.

The Gemayels

Amidst the chaos, the Christian military commander Bachir Gemayel announced his candidacy for the presidency of Lebanon.

With no serious competition, he was soon elected President on the 23rd of August 1982 with the support of the United States as well as Israel’s Mossad. Following his election, Gemayel would meet with both Israeli Prime Minister Begin and Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.

However, on the 14th of September 1982, Gemayel and 26 more Phalange politicians were killed in a bomb explosion. The assassination was carried out by a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, probably with the knowledge of the Syrian government.

Soon Bachir’s brother Amine Gemayel ascended to the Presidency. Known for his more moderate positions, Amine would occupy the Presidency until 1988.

The Sabra and Shatila Massacre

llowing the assassination of the Phalangist leader Bachir Gemayel and his peers, the desire to take revenge seemed to pervade the Phalangist militants.

Meanwhile the Israelis would surround Shatila and Sabra, and order their Phalangist allies to clear out the PLO fighters. Among the Phalangists closely coordinating with Israel was the Lebanese commander Elie Hobeika, whose fiancé and family had been murdered by the Palestinian militants [and their Lebanese allies] during the Damour massacre of 1976.

Hobeika and his subordinates in the Phalangist militia would subsequently enter the Palestinian camp and massacre an enormous number of civilians. The estimates of the killings which probably took place between the 16th and the 18th of September 1982 suggest between 460 and 3,500 Palestinian deaths.

The Kahan Commission subsequently set up by the Israeli government would indicate that Israeli Defense minister Ariel Sharon was personally responsible for the massacre and should therefore resign.

Peace with Israel

On the 17th of May 1983, President Gemayel signed an agreement terminating the state of war which had lasted since the Israeli-Arab War of 1948.

The agreement also provided for the withdrawal of the Israeli forces, though conditioned on the departure of the Syrian forces. Although the agreement resulted in peace, at least officially with Israel, Lebanon incurred immense opposition from the Arab world for formally recognizing Israel as a sovereign nation.

Moreover, Syria openly denounced the treaty and refused to remove its troops. This in turn, provided Israel sufficient grounds to maintain its military presence in Lebanon. In August 1983 however, Israel would withdraw from the Chouf District, thereby, in effect, removing the buffer zone between the Maronite and the Druze militias.

Brutal fighting soon followed in what would be known as the Mountain war. By September 1983, the Christian forces would find themselves in dire straits, and eventually, the US navy would come to their rescue with gunfire assaulting Syrian and Druze positions.

Hezbollah Attacks Americans

Amidst the Lebanese Civil War, in 1982, the Islamic Republic of Iran would establish a proxy army known as Hezbollah in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Formed with the help of Ayatollah Khomeini’s followers to spread the Islamic revolution, Hezbollah sought the transformation of Lebanon to an Islamic Republic.

Drafting members from the Amal Movement as well as Shi’a groups opposing Israeli occupation, Hezbollah soon grew into a significant armed force. On the 18th of April 1983, Hezbollah associated militants would launch a suicide bomb attack at the US Embassy in West Beirut, killing 63. On the 23rd of October 1983, assaults on US and French barracks would result in the deaths of 58 French and 241 American soldiers.

Even after the withdrawal of US troops, Hezbollah, backed by Iran, would strike the US Embassy annex with a suicide car bomb, killing 24 and injuring 90 people.

February 6th Intifada

The May 17 Agreement with Israel and the United States remained extremely divisive and continued to raise tensions inside Lebanon between the Christians factions who favored it for the most part, and the Muslims who opposed it.

Finally, on the 6th of February 1984, the Shia Amal Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party prevailed over the pro-western Lebanese Army and the western multinational force. As the US marines sought to withdraw, on the 5th of March, under immense pressure, Gemayel had to cancel the May 17 Agreement.

The War of Camps

The intifada, in addition to reducing US and Israeli influence over Lebanon, soon set the stage for the War of Camps [1985-1988] wherein the Amal militia backed by Syria attempted to remove Palestinians from some of their remaining strongholds.

This resulted in the occupation of West Beirut by Syria and the destruction of Palestinian camps. About 3,781 people died as a result and the perception of unity among the Muslim militias incurred a severe blow.

The end of the War of Camps would also see clashes between the Islamist Hezbollah and the relatively secular Amal movement over the Lebanese Shiite population in South Lebanon as well as Beirut’s southern suburbs.

The War of Liberation

President Gemayel’s term in office ended in September 1988 with no successor.

Chaos soon ensued with a civil government led by the Sunni Muslim Selim el Hoss governing from West Beirut and a Maronite military government led by Maronite General Michel Aoun of the Lebanese Army operating from East Beirut. On the 8th of March 1989, following a blockade by Aoun of the illegal ports used by the Muslim militias, violence broke out.

Few days later, Aoun launched the ‘war of liberation’ against the Syrian occupiers and their Lebanese allies. Despite immense support for his efforts initially, his former allies later began switching sides.

Following Aoun’s rejection of the Taif Agreement, many Maronites began opposing Aoun. Consequently, soon, groups led by other Maronites such as Elias Hrawi, Emile Lahoud, Rene Moawad and Samir Geagea joined the Syrian Armed forces in attacking Aoun’s loyalists.

This coalition would soon gain a decisive victory over Aoun’s forces by October 1990, marking, in effect, the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

This last phase of fighting would result in nearly 700 deaths and enormous damage. Moreover, Aoun would flee out of Lebanon and procure political asylum in France.

The Taif Agreement

1989’s Taif Agreement would initiate the final major endeavor to end the war. The treaty would reduce the political clout of the Christians by decreasing their representation in the parliament from the previous 6:5 to a 1:1 ratio.

It would also curtail the powers of the Presidency which was reserved for a Maronite. This was proposed supposedly to reflect the alteration in the demographics.

Several nations including Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Algeria would partake in the negotiations, and in October 1989, Lebanese parliamentarians would agree to the accord for the sake of national reconciliation. Finally, on the 4th of November, the agreement was ratified, and on the following day, Rene Mouawad was elected as President.

Aoun would, however, continue to oppose the agreement on account of the Syrian military presence which it would permit. However, following the defeat of his troops in the War of Liberation, as discussed above, the Taif Agreement would go into effect.

By the end of the Lebanese Civil War, more than 150,000 people had been killed, nearly 100,000 permanently handicapped by various injuries, and around 900,000 people, constituting approximately 20% of the Lebanese population, displaced from their homes. Additionally, the civil war would also trigger a significant exodus of Lebanese Christians.


After the war, most of the militias, except Hezbollah, were disbanded and the Lebanese Armed Forces under the central government grew considerably in strength.

In the meantime, however, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon which would last for nearly fifteen more years, contrary to the initial expectations of many Lebanese leaders, would result in extensive Syrian influence over Lebanon especially to the detriment of the Maronites.

Moreover, the political clout of the Muslims would considerably grow in the ensuing years. Meanwhile, the Lebanese Christians however, would continue to play a prominent role in the nation while constituting a majority of the Lebanese diaspora.

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Perera, A.. "Lebanese Civil War." World History Blog, Sept 30, 2021.

About the Author

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

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