Zgharta Liberation Army
|Marada Brigade/Zgharta Liberation Army (ZLA)|
|Participant in Lebanese Civil War|
Old flag of the Marada Brigade/ZLA (1967-1990).
|Groups||Lebanese Front, Lebanese National Movement (LNM), Lebanese National Salvation Front (LNSF)|
|Leaders||Tony Frangieh, Robert Frangieh, Suleiman Frangieh Jr.|
|Originated as||700 men|
|Allies||Lebanese Army, Kataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF), Tigers Militia, Guardians of the Cedars (GoC), Army of Free Lebanon (AFL), 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 (abbreviation: ZLA) (in French: Armée de Liberation de Zgharta, ALZ) was the party militia 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, in 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 Bcharre and Ehden.
Military structure and organisation
Early stages and expansion 1967-1978
The Marada's ZLA military wing was formed in 1967 and at the outbreak of the war in April 1975, they numbered just 700 men armed with obsolete firearms acquired in the black market. 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 autorities proved powerless to prevent.
Thanks to the covert support provided by the Lebanese Army, in 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 small-arms drawn from LAF reserves and ISF police stations or supplied by Syria. Besides providing training, weapons and ammunition, the Lebanese Army also lent to the ZLA sophisticated mobile communications equipment.
They were backed by a small armoured corps made of ex-Lebanese Army M113 APCs and gun-trucks. The latter consisted of commandeered Land-Rover series II-III, Toyota Land Cruiser (J40), 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 600 medium-duty and GMC C7500 medium-duty cargo trucks.
Structured along semi-conventional lines into mechanized infantry, ‘commando’, signals, medical and military police branches, the ZLA had its military HQ established at the small town of Ehden near Zgharta, where the latter residents spend the summer. While its membership and command structure was predominantly Maronite, they did included a few Greek-Catholics and Greek-Orthodox into their ranks. They initially allied themselves with the other Christian rightist parties of the Lebanese Front, operating mainly out of Tripoli and other areas of northern Lebanon, but also fought in East Beirut. In October 1975 ZLA militiamen were heavily committed in the Battle of the Hotels and in March 1976 they assisted the hard-pressed Republican Guard battalion in the defense of the Presidential Palace at Baabda from a two-pronged combined Lebanese National Movement-Lebanese Arab Army assault, though prior to the attack President Suleiman Frangieh had decamped to the safety of Jounieh. After Tony Frangieh was killed in the Ehden massacre perpetrated by the Lebanese Forces (LF) in June 1978, he was replaced in the militia's command by his younger brother Robert Frangieh, later succeeded by its nephew Suleiman Frangieh, Jr. in 1982.
The later years 1979-1990
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 Frangieh clan fief in the Koura District, the so-called ‘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.
The Al-Marada even had 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
The ‘Northern Canton’, which comprised the northern Lebanon districts of Tripoli, Zgharta, Ehden, Bsharri, Batroun, and the illegal ports of Chekka – Lebanon’s industrial hub at the time – and Silatah, was run by the Marada’s own civil administration of 80 public servants. The later 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.
Political beliefs and controversy
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. Though conservative in outlook, sharing with their Christian allies similar viewpoints regarding the PLO 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.
- Army of Free Lebanon
- Ehden massacre
- Lebanese civil war
- Lebanese Forces
- Lebanese National Salvation Front
- Marada Movement
- Weapons of the Lebanese Civil War
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