Lebanon Table of Contents
On July 4, 1986, Syrian troops entered West Beirut for the first time since being expelled during the 1982 Israeli invasion. Approximately 500 Syrian troops, working with the Lebanese Army and police, cleared roadblocks, closed militia offices, and collected weapons. In mid-February 1987, however, a new round of fighting broke out in West Beirut, this time between Druze and Shia militias, both of which were regarded as Syrian allies. The combat was described by witnesses as being of unrivaled intensity in twelve years of war, with the militiamen using formations of Soviet-made T-54 tanks that Syria had supplied to both sides. Five days of combat caused an estimated 700 casualties and set much of West Beirut aflame.
Syria acted decisively to stop the chaos in West Beirut, and it seized the opportunity to reimpose its hegemony over the areas in Lebanon from which it had been evicted by Israel in 1982. On February 22, 1987, it dispatched 7,500 troops, configured in two brigades and a battalion, from eastern Lebanon. The Syrian troops, most of whom were veteran commandos, closed down some seventy militia offices, rounded up and arrested militia leaders, confiscated arms caches, deployed troops along the major roads and at Beirut International Airport, established checkpoints, and sent squads on patrol in the streets.
The Syrian Army did not shy away from violence in its effort to restore order to the Lebanese capital. In the first two days of its police operation, Syrian troops shot some fifteen Lebanese of various militias. Then on February 24 a dozen trucks full of Syrian commandos entered the Basta neighborhood, a Shia stronghold, and attacked the Fathallah barracks, the headquarters of the Hizballah organization. There, Syrian troops killed eighteen Hizballah militants.
In mid-April the Syrian Army deployed troops south of Beirut. Approximately 100 Syrian commandos, fighting alongside soldiers of the Lebanese Army's Sixth Brigade, occupied key positions along the strategic coastal highway linking Beirut with southern Lebanon and took control of the bridge over the Awwali River, near Sidon.
By mid-1987 the Syrian Army appeared to have settled into Beirut for a protracted stay. Lebanon's anarchy was regarded by Syrian officials as an unacceptable risk to Syrian security. The government of Syria appeared prepared to occupy Beirut permanently, if necessary. The senior Syrian military commander in Lebanon, Brigadier General Ghazi Kanaan, said that militia rule of Lebanon had ended and that the Syrian intervention was "open-ended," implying that Syria would occupy West Beirut indefinitely. Meanwhile Syrian officials indicated that thousands of additional Syrian troops would probably be sent to Beirut to ensure stability. Kanaan declared that Syria would take full responsibility for the security of foreign embassies in West Beirut, and he invited foreign missions to return. Kanaan also promised that Syria would expend all possible efforts to secure the release of Western hostages held by Lebanese terrorists.
Data as of December 1987