Zgharta Liberation Army

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Marada Brigade/Zgharta Liberation Army (ZLA)
Participant in Lebanese Civil War
Marada old.jpg
Old flag of the Marada Brigade/ZLA (1967-1990).
Active Until 1991
Groups Lebanese Front, Lebanese National Movement (LNM), Lebanese National Salvation Front (LNSF)
Leaders Tony Frangieh, Robert Frangieh, Suleiman Frangieh Jr.
Headquarters Zgharta, Ehden
Size 2,400-3,500 fighters
Originated as 700-800 men
Allies Lebanese Army, Kataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF), Al-Tanzim, Tigers Militia, Guardians of the Cedars (GoC), Army of Free Lebanon (AFL), Amal Movement, Jammoul, Syrian Army
Opponents Lebanese National Movement (LNM), Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Lebanese Arab Army (LAA), Lebanese Forces, Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Lebanese Army

The Zgharta Liberation Army or Zghartawi Liberation Army – ZLA (French: Armée de Liberation de Zgharta – ALZ) was the paramilitary branch of the Lebanese Marada Movement during the Lebanese Civil War. The militia was formed in 1967 on President Suleiman Frangieh's instructions as the Marada Brigade (also translated as Mardaite Brigade, Arabic: Liwa' al-Marada) seven years before the war began. The force was initially commanded by Suleiman Franjieh's son, Tony Frangieh. It operated mainly out of Tripoli and Zgharta, but it also fought in Beirut. The ZLA fought against various Palestinian and Lebanese Muslim militias as well as the Lebanese Forces in Bsharri and Ehden.


The Al-Marada's military wing was secretly formed in 1967 and at the outbreak of the war in April 1975, they numbered just 700-800 men armed with obsolete firearms acquired in the black market.[1] They first came to light on 17 August 1970 at Beirut, when Tony Frangieh forced his way into the Parliament House leading a group of armed militiamen in order to secure his father's election to the Presidency – an illegal move that the Lebanese official authorities proved powerless to prevent.

Political beliefs and controversy[edit]

Often described as a Mafia-style gangster organization rather than a true political party, the Al-Marada/ZLA seems to have never devised a coherent program or adhered to a particular ideology. Although conservative in outlook, sharing with the other rightist Christian parties similar viewpoints regarding the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) military presence in Lebanon and the preservation of the pre-war political status quo, they were generally regarded as an ill-reputed corps of feudal retainers renown for their brutality and corruption.

Military structure and organization[edit]

Structured along semi-conventional lines into mechanized infantry, 'commando', signals, medical and military police branches, the ZLA had a distinct regional orientation,[2] since its military HQ was established at the small town of Ehden near Zgharta, where the latter residents spend the summer. While their membership and command structure was predominantly Maronite, they did included a number of Greek-Catholics and Greek-Orthodox into their ranks. They initially allied themselves with the other Christian rightist parties' militias – Kataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF), Tigers Militia, Guardians of the Cedars (GoC), Al-Tanzim, Lebanese Youth Movement (LYM), and Tyous Team of Commandos (TTC) –, operating mainly out of Tripoli and other areas of northern Lebanon, being engaged mostly in fighting local Muslim militias,[3] but also fought in East Beirut.[4] Thanks to the covert support provided by the Lebanese Army, by January 1976 the Frangieh-controlled militia ranks had swollen to 2,400 troops, a total comprising 800 full-time fighters and 1,500 irregulars. At its height in the late 1970s, the Al-Marada mustered some 3,500 men and women equipped with modern small-arms.[5]

Weapons and equipment[edit]

Prior to the war, the ZLA militia initially received covert support from the Lebanese Army, who besides providing training, weapons and ammunition, also lent to the ZLA sophisticated mobile communications equipment.[6] Weapons, vehicles, and other non-lethal equipments were initially procured on the international black market or drawn from Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) reserves and Internal Security Forces (ISF) police stations. After June 1978, they were financed and armed mainly by Syria.


The Al-Marada fielded since January 1976 a mechanized corps made of ex-Lebanese Army M113 armored personnel carriers[7] and gun-trucks or 'Technicals'. The latter consisted of commandeered Land-Rover series II-III, Toyota Land Cruiser (J40),[8] Dodge Power Wagon W200, GMC Sierra Custom K25/K30 and Chevrolet C-10 Cheyenne light pickups fitted with heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles and anti-aircraft autocannons. For logistical support, the ZLA relied on Chevrolet Series 50 light-duty, Dodge F600 medium-duty and GMC C7500 medium-duty cargo trucks.


Yugoslav Zastava M55 20mm, Soviet ZPU (ZPU-1, ZPU-2, ZPU-4) 14.5mm, and ZU-23-2 23mm AA autocannons (mostly mounted on technicals and heavier transport trucks) were employed in both air defense and direct fire support roles. These light Anti-Aircraft pieces were either seized from Lebanese Army stocks, acquired on the black market or provided by Syria.

Naval craft[edit]

They also maintained a small 'naval' branch equipped with some Zodiac rubber inflatable boats and converted civilian fishing craft armed with heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft autocannons, being used as a shock force for both military and barratry operations.

List of Marada military commanders[edit]

Administrative organization and illegal activities[edit]

The Frangieh clan established its own fief in the northern Lebanon, the so-called 'Northern Canton', in 1978, which comprised the districts of Tripoli, Koura, Zgharta, Bsharri and parts of Batroun. The Canton was run by the Al-Marada's own civil administration of 80 public servants, who were also entrusted of running the militia's own television and radio service, "The Voice of the Marada" (Arabic: Iza'at Sawt al-Marada) or "La Voix des Maradah" in French. Initially funded by Suleiman Frangieh's own personal fortune, the Al-Marada/ZLA also resorted to racketeering, with additional revenues being generated by the illegal ports of Chekka – Lebanon's industrial hub at the time – and Silatah, where they carried out drug-smuggling, arms contraband and barratry activities, and levied tolls on the transit trade of agricultural products and other goods.

The ZLA in the Lebanese Civil War[edit]

Early stages and expansion 1975-78[edit]

The small ZLA entered the civil war only in July 1975, in response to a series of attacks in the Sunni Muslim-dominated northern port city of Tripoli on shops and offices owned by Christians from Zgharta by local Muslim militias.[9] In October that year, ZLA militiamen were heavily committed in the Battle of the Hotels and later in March 1976 they assisted the hard-pressed Republican Guard battalion in the defense of the Presidential Palace in the Baabda District from a two-pronged combined PLO – Lebanese National MovementLebanese Arab Army (LAA) assault, though prior to the attack President Suleiman Frangieh had decamped to the safety of Jounieh.[10]

Despite having joined in January 1976 the Lebanese Front alliance that gathered the main rightist Christian parties and their militias, the Frangiehs close ties to Syria (Suleiman was a personal friend of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad), along with their bitter political squabbling with the Gemayel clan – leaders of the Kataeb Party or 'Phalange' – and their dissagrements with the other Christian leaders over their tactical alliance with Israel, prompted them to break from the Lebanese Front in 1977, an act that would ultimely led to the tragic events of the following year.

The later years 1979-1990[edit]

After Tony Frangieh was killed in the Ehden massacre perpetrated by the Lebanese Forces (LF) in June 1978,[11][12][13][14] he was replaced in the militia's command by his younger brother Robert Frangieh, later succeeded by his nephew Suleiman Frangieh Jr. in 1982.

In the months immediately after the Ehden killings, the Frangiehs were not only able to prevent the ZLA of being totally destroyed or absorved into the Lebanese Forces, but also succeeded in ruthlessly driving the latter out of the Koura District by the end of the 1970s, slaughtering many Phalange' members and forcing the remainder either to flee the region or go underground. It has also been suspected that the Al-Marada/ZLA were behind the assassinations of Bashir Gemayel's infant daughter and bodyguards by a car bomb explosion in February 1979 and later of Bashir himself in September 1982, although the degree of involvement of the Zgharta-based militia on any of these attacks remains unclear. After 1978, the Frangiehs switched their allegiance to the LNM camp and then to Syria, even lending their support to Syrian Army units at east Beirut against the Christian militias and the Army of Free Lebanon (AFL) during the Hundred Days' War. They joined in July 1983 the Lebanese National Salvation Front (LNSF), subsequently supporting in 1988-1990 the Syrian-sponsored Taif Agreement and the parliament-based provisional government of Sunni Prime-Minister Selim Al-Hoss against General Michel Aoun's Maronite-dominated military interim government.

Pushed to the sidelines for the rest of the war, the ZLA was able to remain active thanks to Syrian support and although its numbers dwindled to 1,600 fighters by the mid-1980s, the Al-Marada managed to hold on to the 'Northern Canton'. It was also alleged that they received the tacit backing from a contingent of unspecified number from the 1,700 men-strong Lebanese Army's Seventh Brigade stationed at Jbeil, being regarded as loyal to former president Suleiman Frangieh.[15]


Upon the end of the war in October 1990, Al-Marada/ZLA militia forces operating in Beirut and the 'Northern Canton' were ordered in March 1991 to disband and surrender their heavy weaponry. Disbanded in the early 1990s as a military force, they later re-emerged as a legal political organization, the Marada Movement (Arabic: Tayyar al-Marada). The ZLA is no longer active.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Makdisi and Sadaka, The Lebanese Civil War, 1975-1990 (2003), p. 44, Table 1: War Period Militias.
  2. ^ Rabinovich, The war for Lebanon (1989), pp. 66-68.
  3. ^ Rabinovich, The war for Lebanon (1989), pp. 66-68.
  4. ^ Collelo, Lebanon: a country study (1989), p. 240.
  5. ^ Library of Congress: APPENDIX B - Lebanon
  6. ^ Jureidini, McLaurin, and Price, Military operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas (1979), pp. 42-45.
  7. ^ Kassis, 30 Years of Military Vehicles in Lebanon (2003), p. 25.
  8. ^ Kassis, 30 Years of Military Vehicles in Lebanon (2003), p. 25.
  9. ^ Weinberger, Syrian Intervention in Lebanon: The 1975-76 Civil War (1986), pp. 157-158.
  10. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), pp. 46-47.
  11. ^ Collelo, Lebanon: a country study (1989), p. 240.
  12. ^ Katz, Russel, and Volstad, Armies in Lebanon 1982-84 (1985), p. 8.
  13. ^ Gordon, The Gemayels (1988), p. 55.
  14. ^ O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 79.
  15. ^ Collelo, Lebanon: a country study (1989), pp. 223-224.


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External links[edit]