Bus massacre

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The Bus Massacre, also known as the ‘Ain el-Rammaneh incident’ (or 'massacre'), was the collective name given to a short series of armed clashes involving Lebanese Christian and Palestinian elements in the streets of central Beirut, which is commonly presented as the spark that set off the Lebanese Civil War in the mid-1970s.


Early in the morning of April 13, 1975, outside the Church of Notre Dame de la Delivrance at the predominantly Christian district of Ain el-Rammaneh in East Beirut in which was attending Pierre Gemayel, a Lebanese political leader and founder of the Kataeb Party, occurred an altercation between half a dozen armed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas (Arabic: Fedayyn) on a passing vehicle performing the customary waving and firing their automatic rifles into the air (Arabic: Baroud)[1][2]

At 10:30 am, when the congregation was concentrated outside the front door of the temple upon the conclusion of the ceremony, a group of unidentified gunmen approached in two civilian cars – rigged with posters and bumper stickers belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a PLO faction – and suddenly opened fire, killing four Phalangist militants:[3][4][5] Gemayel's bodyguards Joseph Abu Assi, Antoine Husseini and two other people.[2]

The Bus attack[edit]

In the commotion that followed, armed Phalangist KRF and NLP Tigers militiamen took the streets, and began to set up roadblocks at Ain el-Rammaneh and other Christian-populated eastern districts of the Lebanese Capital, stopping vehicles and checked identities.[6]

Assuming the perpetrators were Palestinian guerrillas who carried out the attack and outraged by the audacity of the attempt on the life of their historical leader, the Phalangists planned an immediate response. Shortly after mid-day, a PLO bus carrying Palestinian refugees,[7] of whom some were armed, returning from a political rally at Tel el-Zaatar held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) passed through Ain el-Rammaneh on its way to Sabra refugee camp. The bus drove through the narrow street-alleys, where there was an armed Phalangist presence due to the earlier incident. Upon seeing it pass, the Phalangist militants opened fire on the bus, killing 27, and wounding 19. According to sociologist Samir Khalaf all 28 passengers were killed.[8]


This bloody incident, which became known as the “Bus massacre”, incited long-standing sectarian hatred and mistrust, and sparked heavy fighting throughout the country between Kataeb Regulatory Forces militiamen and the Palestinian Fedayyn and their leftist-Muslim allies of the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) alliance, resulting in over 300 dead in just three days.[9]

The recently appointed Lebanese Prime-Minister, the Sunni Rashid al-Sulh, tried vainly to defuse the situation as quickly as possible by sending in the evening of the day following the massacre a Gendarmerie detachment from the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) to Ain el-Rammaneh, which detained a number of suspects. In addition, Prime-Minister Sulh tried to pressure Phalangist Party’ President Pierre Gemayel to hand over to the authorities the Phalangist KRF militiamen responsible for the death of the Palestinian driver. Gemayel publicly refused however, hinting that he and his Party would no longer abide by the authority of the government due to the influx of the Palestinians and PLO.[10]


Although most PLO accounts deny this version of the event, describing the bus passengers as civilian families, victims of an unprovoked attack, and not fully armed guerrillas, Abd al-Rahim Ahmad of the ALF did confirm years later that some of them were off-duty members of his faction.[11] Another high-rank PLO official, Abu Iyad, later suggested that the incident was not the responsibility of the Phalange, but rather a deliberate provocation engineered by the National Liberal Party (NLP), a predominately Christian conservative Party led by former President Camille Chamoun.[12]

The bus was found and exhibited in mid-2011.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 1.
  2. ^ a b El-Khazen, Farid (2000). The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, 1967-1976. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 287. ISBN 0674081056. Retrieved 18 September 2015. 
  3. ^ Gordon, The Gemayels (1988), p. 48.
  4. ^ Katz, Russel & Volstad, Armies in Lebanon (1985), p. 4.
  5. ^ Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states: Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books. p. 99. 
  6. ^ Katz, Russel & Volstad, Armies in Lebanon (1985), p. 5.
  7. ^ Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states: Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books. p. 99. 
  8. ^ Khalaf, Samir (2002): Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Human Contact; New York: Columbia University Press; p. 228f
  9. ^ Harris, Faces of Lebanon (1997), p. 161.
  10. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 2.
  11. ^ Personal interview with Rex Brynen in Amman, Jordan, December 28, 1986
  12. ^ Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land (1981), p. 164.
  13. ^ Mayault, Isabelle (6 November 2011). "Le bus et son double". Mashallah News. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf, with Eric Rouleau), My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle, Times Books, New York 1981. ISBN 0-8129-0936-4
  • Edgar O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 1975-92, Palgrave Macmillan, 1998. ISBN 0-333-72975-7
  • Rex Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival: the PLO in Lebanon, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.
  • Samuel M. Katz, Lee E. Russel & Ron Volstad, Armies in Lebanon 1982-84, Men-at-Arms series 165, Osprey Publishing, London 1985. ISBN 0-85045-602-9
  • William W. Harris, Faces of Lebanon: Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1997. ISBN 1-55876-115-2
  • Matthew S. Gordon, The Gemayels (World Leaders Past & Present), Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. ISBN 1-55546-834-9