Damour massacre

Coordinates: 33°44′N 35°27′E / 33.733°N 35.450°E / 33.733; 35.450
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Damour massacre
Part of the Lebanese Civil War
A destroyed house in Damour (ICRC archives)
LocationDamour, Lebanon
Coordinates33°44′N 35°27′E / 33.733°N 35.450°E / 33.733; 35.450
Date20 January 1976; 48 years ago (1976-01-20)
Attack type
Deaths582 [1]
Perpetrators Palestine Liberation Organization
MotiveAnti-Christian sentiment, revenge for the Karantina massacre

The Damour massacre took place on 20 January 1976, during the 1975–1990 Lebanese Civil War. Damour, a Maronite Christian town on the main highway south of Beirut, was attacked by left-wing militants of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and as-Sa'iqa. Many of its people died in battle or in the massacre that followed, and the others were forced to flee.[2] According to Robert Fisk, the town was the first to be subject to ethnic cleansing in the Lebanese Civil War.[3] The massacre was in retaliation to the Karantina massacre by the Phalangists.[4]


The Damour massacre was a response to the Karantina massacre of 18 January 1976 in which Phalangists, a predominantly-Christian right-wing militia, killed 1,000 to 1,500 people.[4][5]

The Ahrar and the Phalangist militias, based in Damour, and Dayr al Nama had blocked the coastal road leading to southern Lebanon and the Chouf, which turned them into a threat to the PLO and its leftist and nationalist allies in the Lebanese Civil War.[6]

That occurred as part of a series of events during the Lebanese Civil War in which Palestinians joined the Muslim forces,[7] in the context of the Christian-Muslim divide,[8] and soon Beirut was divided along the Green Line, with Christian enclaves to the east and Muslims to the west.[9]

On 9 January, the militias began a siege of Damour and Jiyeh.[10] Jiyeh was entered by the PLO on 17 January.[10] Before 20 January, more than 15,000 civilians fled Damour.[3]


Severed head of a doll in Damour (ICRC archives)

On 20 January, under the command of Fatah and as-Sa'iqa, members of the Palestine Liberation Organization and leftist Muslim Lebanese militiamen entered Damour.[11] Along with twenty Phalangist militiamen, civilians - including women, the elderly, and children, and often comprising whole families - were lined up against the walls of their homes and sprayed with machine-gun fire by Palestinians; the Palestinians then systematically dynamited and burned these homes.[12][3][11] Several of the town's young women were separated from other civilians and gang-raped.[3] Most estimates of the number killed range from 150 to 250, with the overwhelming majority of these being civilians; Robert Fisk puts the number of civilians massacred at nearly 250, while Israeli professor Mordechai Nisan claims a significantly higher figure of 582.[3][13][14][15][16][17] Among the killed were family members of Elie Hobeika and his fiancée.[18] For several days after the massacre, 149 bodies of those executed by the Palestinians lay in the streets; this included the corpses of many women who had been raped and of babies who were shot from close range in the back of the head.[14] In the days following the massacre, Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims exhumed the coffins in the town's Christian cemetery and scattered the skeletons of several generations of the town's deceased citizens in the streets.[14][3][11]

After the Battle of Tel al-Zaatar later that year, the PLO resettled Palestinian refugees in Damour. After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Zaatar refugees were expelled from Damour and the original inhabitants brought back.[19]

According to an eyewitness, the attack took place from the mountain behind the town. "It was an apocalypse," said Father Mansour Labaky, a Christian Maronite priest who survived the massacre. "They were coming, thousands and thousands, shouting 'Allahu Akbar! (God is great!) Let us attack them for the Arabs, let us offer a holocaust to Mohammad!", and they were slaughtering everyone in their path, men, women and children."[20][21][22][23]

According to Thomas L. Friedman, the Phalangist Damouri Brigade, which carried out the Sabra and Shatila massacre during the 1982 Lebanon War, sought revenge not only for the assassination of Bachir Gemayel but also for what he describes as past killings of their own people by Palestinians, including those at Damour.[24][25] Elie Hobeika, who oversaw the attack on Sabra and Shatila, was greatly inspired by the loss of his relatives and fiancé in the attack at Damour.[26]

According to the International Center for Transitional Justice, the leadership of Fatah and as-Sa'iqa made a decision to "empty the city."[11]


There are varying claims about the precise composition of the forces that committed the massacre at Damour. According to some,[according to whom?] bulk of the attacking forces seems to have been composed of brigades from the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA). Some sources name the PLA's Ayn Jalout brigade armed by Egypt and the Qadisiyah brigade from Iraq,[27] and as-Sa'iqa, as well as other members of other groups, including Fatah, as well as the Muslim Lebanese al-Murabitun militia. Others contend that there were no Lebanese involved in perpetrating the massacre, and that those who committed atrocities were Palestinians from the Fatah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine along with militiamen from Syria, Jordan, Libya,[28] Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and possibly even Japanese Red Army terrorists who were then undergoing training by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Lebanon.[29]

According to historian Robert Fisk, Yasser Arafat, who had authorized the PLO to participate in the attack, wanted to execute the local PLO commanders afterwards for what they had permitted,[30] while Israeli professor Mordechai Nisan claims that Arafat had "direct control" of the forces conducting the massacre.[31]

In popular culture[edit]

The Insult, a film by the Lebanese-French director, Ziad Doueiri, about a lawsuit between a Palestinian-Lebanese refugee who fled after the Jordanian Civil War, and a Lebanese Christian who survived the Damour massacre, was nominated for the Oscars in 2018.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lebanon's dispossessed come home: Robert Fisk in Damour on the scars". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  2. ^ Armies in Lebanon, 1985, Osprey Publishing
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Lebanon's dispossessed come home: Robert Fisk in Damour on the scars". The Independent. 23 October 2011. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  4. ^ a b William W. Harris (January 2006). The New Face of Lebanon: History's Revenge. Markus Wiener Publishers. p. 162. ISBN 978-1-55876-392-0. Retrieved 27 July 2013. the massacre of 1,500 Palestinians, Shi'is, and others in Karantina and Maslakh, and the revenge killings of hundreds of Christians in Damour
  5. ^ Noam Chomsky, Edward W. Said (1999) Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians South End Press, ISBN 0-89608-601-1 pp 184–185
  6. ^ Yezid Sayigh (1999) Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949–1993 Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-829643-6 p 368
  7. ^ Samuel M. Katz (1985). Armies in Lebanon. Osprey Publishing. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-85045-602-8. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  8. ^ Frank Brenchley (1989). Britain and the Middle East: Economic History, 1945-87. I.B.Tauris. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-870915-07-6.
  9. ^ Terry John Carter; Lara Dunston; Amelia Thomas (2008). Syria & Lebanon. Ediz. Inglese. Lonely Planet. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-74104-609-0.
  10. ^ a b "Lebanon's Legacy of Political Violence: A Mapping of Serious Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lebanon, 1975-2008" (PDF). pp. 14, 15.
  11. ^ a b c d "Lebanon’s Legacy of Political Violence A Mapping of Serious Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lebanon, 1975–2008." International Center for Transitional Justice. ICTJ report. Lebanon mapping 2013 Archived 19 October 2020 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Fisk, 2001, pp. 99–100.
  13. ^ Hirst, David (2010) Beware of Small States. Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-23741-8 p.111: ‘some 150’ killed
  14. ^ a b c Fisk, Robert (2002). Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. New York: Thunder's Mouth/Nation Books. p. 105.
  15. ^ Randal, Jonathan (1983) ‘’The Tragedy of Lebanon. Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers and American Bunglers’’ Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-2755-4 p.90
  16. ^ Nisan, 2003
  17. ^ Nisan (2003) 24.
  18. ^ "Elie Hobeika". moreorless : heroes & killers of the 20th century. www.moreorless.au.com. Archived from the original on 5 August 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  19. ^ Helena Cobban (8 November 2004). "Back to Shatila, part 2". Just World News. Archived from the original on 12 July 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  20. ^ Israel undercover: secret warfare and hidden diplomacy in the Middle East By Steve Posner, ISBN 0-8156-0220-0, ISBN 978-0-8156-0220-0, p. 2
  21. ^ J. Becker: The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984, p. 124 [1] qtd in [2] [3]
  22. ^ "Articles > PLO Policy towards the Christian Community during the Civil War in Lebanon". ICT. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2012.
  23. ^ The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984, p. 124 [4] qtd in [5] [6]
  24. ^ Friedman, 1998, p. 161.
  25. ^ Friedman, New York Times, 20, 21, 26, 27 September 1982.
  26. ^ Mostyn, Trevor, The Guardian, 25 January 2002
  27. ^ Syria's Horrendous Track Record in Lebanon Archived 14 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine also mentions the Yarmouk brigade, set up by Syria.
  28. ^ Brian Lee Davis (1990). Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. ABC-CLIO. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-275-93302-9.
  29. ^ Nisan, 2003, p. 41.
  30. ^ Fisk, 2001, pps. 89, 99,
  31. ^ Nisan (2003) 24.


  • Abraham, A. J. (1996). The Lebanon War. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN 0-275-95389-0
  • Fisk, Robert. (2001). Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280130-9
  • Friedman, Thomas. (1998) From Beirut To Jerusalem. 2nd Edition. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-653070-2
  • Nisan, M. (2003). The Conscience of Lebanon: A Political Biography of Etienne Sakr (Abu-Arz). London: Routledge. ISBN 0-7146-5392-6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Becker, Jillian. (1985). The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization . New York: St. Martin's Press ISBN 0-312-59379-1

External links[edit]