Battle of the Hotels

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Battle of the Hotels
Part of the Lebanese Civil War
Holiday Inn Beirut 4221308304 3229d92857 t.jpg
The ruined Holiday Inn Beirut in the hotel district of Beirut, with the Phoenicia in front of it on the right in 2009
Date October 24, 1975 – March 1976
Location Beirut
Result
  • Division of Beirut
  • Displacement of Christians in the Muslim/Leftist-controlled West Beirut
  • Lebanese Front expulsion from West Beirut
Belligerents

Lebanon Lebanese National Movement


Amal


ASALA


Palestine Liberation Organization PLO


Lebanesearmyfirstflag.png Lebanese Arab Army

Forces Libanaises Flag.svg Lebanese Front


Lebanesearmyfirstflag.png Army of Free Lebanon


Lebanon Internal Security Forces
Commanders and leaders

Flag of Mourabitoun.gif Ibrahim Kulaylat
Flag of the Progressive Socialist Party.svg Kamal Jumblatt
Flag of the Lebanese Communist Party.svg George Hawi
Muhsin Ibrahim
Flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.svg Inaam Raad


Lt. Ahmed al-Khatib


Musa al-Sadr


Hagop Hagopian


Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat
Flag of the Ba'ath Party.svg Zuheir Mohsen
George Habash

Nayef Hawatmeh

Logo of Kataeb Party.svg Pierre Gemayel
Logo of Kataeb Party.svg Bachir Gemayel
Logo of Kataeb Party.svg William Hawi
Noumour.jpg Dany Chamoun
Ḥurrās al-Arz (crest).png Etienne Saqr
Marada old.jpg Tony Franjieh
Al-Tanzim logo.png Obad Zouein
Al-Tanzim logo.png Fawzi Mahfouz
Forces Libanaises Flag.svg Bashir el-Khoury


Lebanesearmyfirstflag.png Saad Haddad
Lebanesearmyfirstflag.png Col. Antoine Barakat
Strength
LNM: ~1,500
PLO: ~500
Lebanese Arab Army: ~300
LF: ~1,000
Casualties and losses
200 dead
500 wounded
500 dead
750 wounded

The Battle of the Hotels, also known as the “Hotel front”, was a subconflict within the 1975-77 phase of the Lebanese Civil War which occurred in the Minet-el-Hosn hotel district of downtown Beirut. This area was one of the first fronts of the war that opened up in 1975.

The battle was fought for the possession of a small hotel complex adjacent to the gilded Corniche seafront area on the Mediterranean, in the north-western corner of the downtown district of Beirut. It quickly spread to other areas of central Beirut. The often fierce battles that ensued were fought with heavy exchanges of rocket and artillery fire from the various hotel rooftops and rooms. Sniper fire was commonly utilized.

Background[edit]

The Holiday Inn Beirut was used as a vantage point for militias and was badly damaged

Situated between the Jounblatt and Minet el-Hosn quarters, the complex grouped a number of modern hotels, comprising the Holiday Inn, St. Georges, Phoenicia Inter-Continental, Melkart, Palm Beach, Excelsior, and the Alcazar, some of them high-rise and not all of which had been completed when the civil war broke out in April 1975. Another tactically valuable multiple-storey building was the yet unfinished 30-story Murr Tower (Arabic: Burj El-Murr) in the Kantari District and the Rizk Tower (Arabic: Burj Rizk Achrafieh), Beirut’s tallest buildings at the time which, together with the neighbouring hotels, towered over the residential quarters in adjacent areas, both Christian and Muslim. This district had been spared the effects of the ongoing conflict, and most of the hotels were able to continue functioning normally.[1]

The Battle of the Hotels[edit]

October 1975[edit]

The first rounds were exchanged on October 23, 1975, during the final phase of the Battle for the Kantari District, when a detachment of fighters – nicknamed the “Hawks of Zeidani” – from the Al-Murabitoun, the militia of the Independent Nasserite Movement (INM) led by Ibrahim Kulaylat occupied the empty Murr Tower after they managed to dislodge its Christian Phalange Kataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF) defenders,[2] and began firing rockets and mortars from the upper floors into the Christian-held neighborhoods below.[3] During the battle, the Al-Murabitoun reportedly committed some 200-300 fighters,[4] even though other sources cite a higher number of 500.[5] The majority of the buildings were usually defended by an even smaller number of fighters, with no more than 60 militiamen participating on any given day.[6]

On October 26, the fighting in Kantari between the Muslim-leftist Lebanese National Movement (LNM) and Christian-rightist Lebanese Front militias spread to the Hotel district. The first hotel/restaurant to be burned down was the Austrian Myrtom House, located next to the Haigazian College in the Rue du Mexique. Customers, including three foreign diplomats, and staff were temporarly held hostage and then released, though two employees are still on the missing list.[7][8]

As a counter-move, Christian fighters of the Phalange KRF militia headed by William Hawi and Bashir Gemayel began to take positions between and around the main hotels, but quickly found themselves at a disadvantage as they were under constant observation and heavy machine gun fire from the Murr Tower. The Phalangists attempted – with little success – to silence and reduce the Murr Tower by directing small-arms fire at it from the Rizk Tower and Achrafieh.[9] On October 27, backed by a small squadron made up of five makeshift armored cars,[10] the Phalangists then moved into the Holiday Inn and the Phoenicia, while militiamen of the NLP Tigers Militia headed by Dany Chamoun moved into the St Georges Hotel. A fierce five-day gun-battle between the INM, Phalange and NLP Tigers ensued, in which the Christian militias also attempt to retake the Murr Tower from its Muslim defenders in Kantari without success.[11]

The situation deteriorated further on October 28, when a shooting incident occurred on the steps of the Parliament House at Nejmeh Square in Christian-controlled territory. One car filled with Muslim militiamen from West Beirut managed to reach the Parliament building and after shouting slogans over a loudspeaker against the members of the Assembly, they opened fire on the deputies leaving the building after attending a parliamentary session. Two men were killed, one being a bodyguard of Phalange Leader Pierre Gemayel. He had been standing nearby at that moment, but was not harmed.[12]

Ruins of the St Georges Hotel, on the right in 2005

Nevertheless, a ceasefire was called upon the belligerents by Prime Minister Rachid Karami on October 29, in order to allow the evacuation of the staff and residents trapped in the hotels, such as the Holiday Inn which held more than 200 people, most of them tourists. The evacuation operation was carried out by a motorized Gendarmerie detachment sent by the Internal Security Forces (ISF), using their M113 and Chaimite V200 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), and fighting resumed as soon as the operation had been completed. Another ceasefire was arranged on October 31 to enable the evacuees to return to collect their belongings, if they so wished.

November 1975[edit]

A new ceasefire came into effect on November 3. Prime Minister Karami then tried to demilitarise the Hotel district, but the Phalangists and the NLP Tigers refused to vacate their positions at the Holiday Inn, St Georges, Phoenicia Inter-Continental and neighbouring buildings until the Muslim militiamen who occupied the Murr Tower had been replaced by ISF Gendarmes. Although Karami did manage to persuade the Al-Murabitoun leader Ibrahim Kulaylat to withdraw his fighters from the Murr Tower, no identical move was ever made by the Phalange militiamen who remained at their positions. Although another ceasefire was called on November 8, it began to break down ten days later as sporadic and occasionally heavy fighting erupted throughout the country. There was, however, little activity in the Hotel district until the following month.[13]

December 1975[edit]

Despite the nominal ceasefire, hostilities were resumed on December 8 when the LNM militias launched a major two-pronged offensive to capture the Christian-held Mediterranean seafront and central Beirut. Units of the Lebanese Army moved into the Parliament House and central post office areas, thus blunting the Muslim-leftist drive toward the city centre.[14] However, fighting continued on the Hotel district, as the Al-Murabitoun, with assorted LNM allies and in conjunction with As-Saiqa, attacked the buildings occupied by the Christian militias. In this round of assaults Soviet-made RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launchers and vehicle-mounted 106mm recoilless rifles were employed in the direct fire support role for the first time in Lebanon.[15]

The operation was led by Ibrahim Kulaylat, the Al-Murabitoun leader, who planned to occupy the district and inflict a crushing defeat on the Phalangist KRF militia that would eventually force them to sue for peace. On December 8–9 there was a seesaw, savage close-quarter battle for the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel, and although the Phalangists were eventually forced out from some of the hotel buildings, they managed to hold-on to their main stronghold at the Holiday Inn. However, when the St Georges fell, the NLP Tigers simply withdrew from the seafront district, leaving the fighting to the Phalangists and the other, smaller Christian militias.[16] On that same date, the Lebanese Army came to the aid of the Phalangists by launching an attack on the Phoenicia and St Georges Hotels, which was initially successful in recapturing the Phoenicia Hotel.[17]

Kulaylat’s operation thus failed to deliver the expected results, and on December 10 it was the Muslims who were trying desperately to hold on at the Alcazar Hotel, even though parts of the building had gone up in flames. Pressured by the joint Army-Christian militias’ counter-offensive, Kulaylat called the PLO for help and received it. The Phoenicia and St Georges Hotels changed hands several times during the night. Nevertheless, the Muslim militiamen were able to storm and secure the disputed Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel, and the next day they mounted another assault against Christian militia’ and ISF Gendarmerie positions. While the Christian militiamen repulsed the attacks on their own positions, the Gendarmes’ avoided confrontation and withdrew to the unfinished Beirut Hilton Hotel. The Al-Murabitoun were forced out from the St Georges and Alcazar Hotels after a heavy artillery bombardment by the Lebanese Army, supported by the Phalangists. Fighting came to a temporary near-halt on December 12 when the exhausted combatants of both sides realised that they had more or less retained their original positions.

Although Prime-Minister Karami had announced another truce two days earlier, it was ignored by the LNM leaders until December 11. However, even on that date fighting continued on the Hotel district as the Muslim-leftists retook the Phoenicia and St Georges Hotels, forced the Lebanese Army out of the area, and launched an unsuccessful assault on the Phalangist-held Holiday Inn.[18] As a result, the ceasefire called earlier on December 10 did not became truly effective until December 15-16 when Syria, As-Saiqa and the PLO put pressure on the LNM political and military leaders to accept the ceasefire proposal. By nightfall, Lebanese ISF Gendarmerie detachments had replaced Muslim and Christian militiamen in all the hotel positions. A Syrian delegation led by General Hikmat Chehabi arrived in Beirut on December 18 to mediate peace talks between the warring factions, the day in which 40 or 50 bodies were recovered from the Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel.[19]

January 1976[edit]

By late December 1975, fighting in the “Hotel front” subsided as the main contenders were distracted elsewhere. On January 1, the Christian militias set up a blockade cutting off supplies to the Palestinian refugee camp of Tel al-Zaatar and adjacent Muslim-populated slum districts in East Beirut.[20] The Muslim-leftist LNM militias retaliated on January 5 by launching an offensive in the south-eastern sectors of the Lebanese capital, and by January 10, fighting had spread to the Hotel district as the Phalangists occupied the Holiday Inn and the Muslim-leftists took the Phoenicia. The following day Muslim militiamen moved back to the Murr Tower. No further important changes in real estate control within the Hotel district occurred until the last phase of the battle, though all the contenders managed to maintain their positions thanks to a Syrian-sponsored ceasefire called later on January 22.[21]

March 1976[edit]

The Hotel district flared up again on March 17, the day when the LNM-PLO joint forces, backed by the Shi’ite Amal Movement militia and the Lebanese Arab Army (LAA) – a predominantely Muslim splinter faction of the official Lebanese Army led by the dissident Sunni Lieutenant Ahmed al-Khatib – launched an all-out offensive against rightist positions in central Beirut. Then, on March 21, a major assault by special Palestinian PLO ‘Commando’ units using armored vehicles lent by Lt. Khatib’s LAA and supported by the leftist-Muslim militias finally managed to dislodge the Phalange from the Holiday Inn. However, the leftist militiamen who had been handed the hotel by the Palestinians for propaganda purposes got so carried away celebrating that the Phalangists were able to sneak back in at dawn the next day.

The Palestinians therefore had to do the job all over again, and on March 22, leftist-Muslim LNM forces backed by PLO guerrillas mounted a counter-attack in downtown Beirut, determined to eliminate any remaining Phalangist presence west of the Martyrs' Square. Over the next two days and amid intense shelling, the Phalange were gradually pushed back to their defensive positions at Martyrs’ Square and Rue Allenby, after a costly battle that resulted in 150 dead and 300 wounded. The following day, March 23, the Al-Murabitoun recaptured the Holiday Inn from the Phalangists, which meant that LNM militias now dominated most of the strategic points around central Beirut. That same day marked the beginning of the battle for the Beirut port area when the LNM-PLO forces advanced towards that sector and captured the Starco building. Five days later, on March 28, they seized control of the Hilton and Normandy Hotels.[22][23] The new battle front was established on the axis Starco-Hilton, while Phalangist militiamen faced assaults launched from the Riad El Solh Square and the Nejmeh Square towards the Port area and the Rue de Damas.

Although the Christians had virtually lost the control of the Hotel district, it was not quite the end of the fighting in downtown Beirut. As the weeks went by, it was becoming painfully apparent to the Lebanese Front leadership that they were at risk of losing the war as the LNM-PLO-LAA alliance forced them to retreat farther into East Beirut. To counter this threat, the Lebanese Front finally agreed to form a ‘Unified Command’ for the Christian rightist militias headed by Pierre Gemayel, who issued an appeal to his supporters to rally to the defense of the Christian areas. Thus by March 26, the Kataeb Regulatory Forces alone were able to mobilize some 18,000 fighters to defend the eastern sector of the Lebanese Capital and the upper Matn.

The new Christian Command felt it imperative to retain control of Beirut’s port district and began raising an elaborate defence barricade at Rue Allenby. As the allied 'Lebanese Front’ militia forces tried to stave off the Muslim-Leftist-Palestinian assault on the port district, units of the predominantly Christian Army of Free Lebanon (AFL) – another ex-Lebanese Army dissident faction led by the right-wing Maronite Colonel Antoine Barakat – now entered the fray. Officers and enlisted men from the AFL’s Fayadieh barracks in south-east Beirut came to the aid of their beleaguered co-religionists, bringing with them much-needed armored vehicles and heavy artillery.[24] During the fighting however, an artillery barrage fired by a unit under Barakat's command accidentally struck the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB), causing a number of casualties among the students. The LNM-PLO advance was finally stopped on March 31 at Rue Allenby, and after Syria threatened to cut the arms shipments to the Muslim factions, both the LNM and Lebanese Front leaders agreed to a ceasefire, which came in to effect on April 2.[25] The Battle of the Hotels was over.

Consequences[edit]

In the end, the battle of the hotels and assorted conflicts provided valuable, if costly, lessons to all sides. The Lebanese Front had grossly underestimated the military strength and organizational capabilities displayed by the Leftist-Muslim LNM coalition and their Palestinian PLO allies in Lebanon, as well as the political and logistical support they would receive from some Arab countries.

In Arts and Popular Culture[edit]

Cinema[edit]

In Die Fälschung (1981) (English title: Circle of Deceit), Volker Schlöndorff makes an ambiguous use of the Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel, one of the hotels involved in the battle. Characters seem to be lodging in the hotel while it has already been damaged by the war. In fact, the outside scenes were shot on location, while the interior scenes were done at Casino du Liban.

Visual Arts[edit]

Lebanese painter Ayman Baalbaki painted the Holiday Inn Beirut, a landmark of this battle. His Holiday Inn Hotel 'Seeking The Heights’ was sold for $47,500 at a Christie's auction in 2010.[26]

Lebanese visual artist and illustrator Lamia Ziadé exhibited in 2008 Hotel’s War, an installation of wool and fabric childlike models of buildings that makes a reference to the Battle of the Hotels.[27]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 28.
  2. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 5.
  3. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 8.
  4. ^ El-Khazen, Farid (2000). The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, 1967-1976. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 303. ISBN 0674081056. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  5. ^ Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon (1983), p. 77.
  6. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 6, and Appendix A, Table 2.
  7. ^ Newsweek, 10th November 1975.
  8. ^ Randall, Going All the Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon (2012), (page unknown).
  9. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 8.
  10. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 32.
  11. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 5.
  12. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 27.
  13. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 5.
  14. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 5.
  15. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 37.
  16. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 6.
  17. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 5.
  18. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 5.
  19. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 39.
  20. ^ http://forum.tayyar.org/f8/facts-ag-tal-el-za3tar-28096/index2.html.
  21. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 6.
  22. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 47.
  23. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), p. 6.
  24. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), pp. 54 and 56-57.
  25. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), pp. 48-49.
  26. ^ "International Modern & Contemporary Art, Including Masterpieces from The Collection of Dr. Mohammed Said Farsi". Christie's. April 27, 2010. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 
  27. ^ "Lamia Ziadé". Fann 3arabi. October 4, 2008. Retrieved 26 February 2012. 

References[edit]

  • Denise Ammoun, Histoire du Liban contemporain: Tome 2 1943-1990, Fayard, Paris 2005. ISBN 978-2-213-61521-9 (in French)
  • Edgar O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 1975-92, Palgrave Macmillan, London 1998. ISBN 0-333-72975-7
  • Farid El-Khazen, The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon 1967-1976, I.B. Tauris, London 2000. ISBN 0-674-08105-6
  • Jonathan Randall, Going All the Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and the War in Lebanon, Just World Books 2012. ISBN 978-1935982166
  • Paul Jureidini, R. D. McLaurin, and James Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas, 1975-1978, Aberdeen, MD: US Army Human Engineering Laboratory, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Technical Memorandum 11-79, June 1979.
  • Rex Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival: the PLO in Lebanon, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.
  • Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War, London: Oxford University Press, (3rd ed. 2001). ISBN 0-19-280130-9
  • Walid Khalidi, Conflict and Violence in Lebanon: Confrontation in the Middle East, Cambridge, MA: Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1983.