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The Siege of Beirut

The cease-fire signaled the start of a new stage in the war, as Israel focused on PLO forces trapped in Beirut. Although Israel had long adhered to the axiom that conquering and occupying an Arab capital would be a political and military disaster, key Israeli leaders were determined to drive the PLO out of Beirut. According to the original plan, the Phalangists were to move into West Beirut under the covering fire of Israeli artillery and reunite the divided capital. Bashir Jumayyil concluded, however, that such overt collusion with the IDF would prejudice his chances to become president, and he reneged on the promises he had made.

Israel maintained the siege of Beirut for seventy days, unleashing a relentless barrage of air, naval, and artillery bombardment. At times, the Israeli bombardment appeared to be random and indiscriminate; at other times, it was targeted with pinpoint precision. Israeli strategists believed that if they could "decapitate" the Palestinian movement by killing its leaders, Palestinian resistance would disappear. Therefore, the Israeli Air Force conducted what has been called a "manhunt by air" for Arafat and his top lieutenants and on several occasions bombed premises only minutes after the PLO leadership had vacated them.

If the PLO was hurt physically by the bombardment, the political fallout was just as damaging to Israel. The appalling civilian casualties earned Israel world opprobrium. Morale plummeted among IDF officers and enlisted men, many of whom personally opposed the war. Meanwhile, the highly publicized plight of the Palestinian civilians garnered world attention for the Palestinian cause. Furthermore, Arafat was negotiating, albeit through intermediaries, with Ambassador Habib and other United States officials. Negotiating with Arafat was thought by some to be tantamount to United States recognition of the PLO.

Arafat had threatened to turn Beirut into a "second Stalingrad," to fight the IDF to the last man. His negotiating stance grew tenuous, however, after Lebanese leaders, who had previously expressed solidarity with the PLO, petitioned him to abandon Beirut to spare the civilian population further suffering. Arafat informed Habib of his agreement in principle to withdraw the PLO from Beirut on condition that a multinational peacekeeping force be deployed to protect the Palestinian families left behind. With the diplomatic deadlock broken, Habib made a second breakthrough when Syria and Tunisia agreed to host departing PLO fighters. An advance unit of the Multinational Force (MNF), 350 French troops, arrived in Beirut on August 21. The Palestinian evacuation by sea to Cyprus and by land to Damascus commenced on the same day. On August 26, the remaining MNF troops arrived in Beirut, including a contingent of 800 United States Marines. The Palestinian exodus ended on September 1. Approximately 8,000 Palestinian guerrillas, 2,600 PLA regulars, and 3,600 Syrian troops had been evacuated from West Beirut.

Taking stock of the war's toll, Israel announced that 344 of its soldiers had been killed and over 2,000 wounded. Israel calculated that hundreds of Syrian soldiers had been killed and over 1,000 wounded and that 1,000 Palestinian guerrillas had been killed and 7,000 captured. Lebanese estimates, compiled from International Red Cross sources and police and hospital surveys, calculated that 17,825 Lebanese had died and over 30,000 had been wounded.

On August 23, the legislature elected Bashir Jumayyil president of Lebanon. On September 10, the United States Marines withdrew from Beirut, followed by the other members of the MNF. The Lebanese Army began to move into West Beirut, and the Israelis withdrew their troops from the front lines. But the war was far from over. By ushering in Jumayyil as president and evicting the PLO from Beirut, Israel had attained two of its key war goals. Israel's remaining ambition was to sign a comprehensive peace treaty with Lebanon that would entail the withdrawal of Syrian forces and prevent the PLO from reinfiltrating Lebanon after the IDF withdrew.

Jumayyil repudiated earlier promises to Israel immediately after the election. He informed the Israelis that a peace treaty was inconceivable as long as the IDF or any other foreign forces remained in Lebanon and that it could be concluded only with the consent of all the Lebanese.

But on September 14, 1982, President-elect Jumayyil was assassinated in a massive radio-detonated explosion that leveled the Phalange Party headquarters where he was delivering a speech to party members. The perpetrator, Habib Shartuni, was soon apprehended. Shartuni, a member of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, was allegedly a Syrian agent. Jumayyil's brother, Amin, who was hostile to the Israeli presence in Lebanon, was elected president with United States backing.

On the evening of September 16, 1982, the IDF, having surrounded the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, dispatched approximately 300 to 400 Christian militiamen into the camps to rout what was believed to be the remnant of the Palestinian forces. The militiamen were mostly Phalangists under the command of Elie Hubayka (also seen as Hobeika), a former close aide of Bashir Jumayyil, but militiamen from the Israeli-supported SLA were also present. The IDF ordered its soldiers to refrain from entering the camps, but IDF officers supervised the operation from the roof of a six-story building overlooking parts of the area. According to the report of the Kahan Commission established by the government of Israel to investigate the events, the IDF monitored the Phalangist radio network and fired illumination flares from mortars and aircraft to light the area. Over a period of two days, the Christian militiamen massacred some 700 to 800 Palestinian men, women, and children.

Data as of December 1987

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