Siege of Tel al-Zaatar

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Siege of Tel al-Zaatar
Part of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1977)
Date August 12, 1976
Location Beirut
Result Destruction of the camp
Displacement of Palestinian Refugees
Lebanese Front decisive and strategic victory

Lebanese Front

Syria Syria

Palestine Liberation Organization PLO

Commanders and leaders
Logo du Parti national liberal.jpeg Dany Chamoun
Etienne Saqr
William Hawi  
Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat
Ahmed Jibril
LF: ~ 3,000 PLO: ~ 1,200
Casualties and losses
LF: 200 1,500[1] to 3,000[2] Palestinians killed

The Siege of Tel al-Zaatar (Arabic: معركة تل الزعتر‎‎), also known as the Tel al-Zaatar Massacre, was an armed siege which took place during the Lebanese Civil War in 1976. Tel al-Zaatar (The Hill of Thyme) was a UNRWA administered Palestinian Refugee camp housing approximately 50,000-60,000 refugees in northeast Beirut.[3][4][5]


The militancy of radical factions increased with the breakdown in authority of the Lebanese government.[6] On 18 January 1976, Christian forces the Guardians of the Cedars and the Tigers militia took control of the Karantina district and then committed the Karantina massacre.[7]

On 4 January 1976, a thin cordon was established around the camp by 300 fighters from the Al-Tanzim and 100 fighters from the Maroun Khoury Group in an effort to contain the Palestinians. The Maroun Khoury Group was a Dikwaneh-based militia. One road was left open to allow Palestinian evacuation towards Aley but the Palestinians refused to enter into dialogue with the Lebanese Front (the overall coalition of Lebanese Christian militias).

At the start of the Battle for the Camps (the final showdown between the Lebanese Front and Palestinian militias), the Ahrar forces surrounded and attacked Jisr al Basha and Kataeb. The Guardian of the Cedars troops engaged the adjacent, mainly Shiite, area of Nabaa, which contained large numbers of leftist forces. These were some of the hardest battles fought during the war.

Syria put itself forwards as a "mediator" on the basis of historic claims.[clarification needed][6] By April, Syrian forces with As-Sa'iqa units intervened on behalf of hard pressed[clarification needed] right-wing militas. The influence of Syria led to the election of Elias Sarkis.[8]

By the first week of June, Syrian forces applied a blockade of West Beirut, a predominantly Muslim section containing the Palestinian headquarters, and left only the southern route open.[9][10] From 22 June the Phalangist forces, many Christian residents of Ras el-Dekweneh and Mansouriye controlled by Maroun Khoury with Syrian backing intensified the blockade to a full-scale military assault that lasted 35 days.[1][10] The Lebanese right-wing militias had laid siege to the refugee camp for 3 months. When the camp fell, the Palestinian deaths numbered in the thousands.[11] The besieging militia's loss was around 200 armed men.[citation needed]

The battle and its aftermath[edit]

The battle is said to have contributed to the mounting Sunni Muslim dissent within Alawi-ruled Syria.[citation needed] As a result, Syria broke off its offensive on the PLO and the LNM, and agreed to an Arab League summit which temporarily ended the Civil War.

After killing and evicting the occupying Palestinians on January 20, 1976 the PLO used the Christian town of Damour to house survivors of the Tel al-Zaatar battle.[12]

The split in the PLO leadership was ended when the Syrian backed As-Sa'iqa movement was expelled from the PLO, leaving Fatah as the dominant party.[13]

Hafez al-Assad received strong criticism and pressure from across the Arab world for his involvement in the battle - this criticism, as well as the internal dissent it caused as an Alawite ruler in a majority Sunni country, led to a cease-fire in his war on the Palestinian militia forces.[14]

Estimations of the numbers of victims[edit]

  • Cobban (p. 142) writes that 1 500 camp occupants were killed in one day and a total of 2 200 were killed throughout the events.
  • World Socialist Web Site The bitter legacy of Syria's Hafez al-Assad By Jean Shaoul and Chris Marsden 16 June 2000, gives a figure of "2,000 refugees" for Tel al-Zaatar.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cobban, Helena (1984), The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521272165 p 73
  2. ^ Price, Daniel E. (1999). Islamic Political Culture, Democracy, and Human Rights: A Comparative Study. Greenwood Publishing Company, ISBN 9780275961879, p. 68.
  3. ^ Lisa Suhair Majaj, Paula W. Sunderman, and Therese Saliba Intersections Syracuse University Press ISBN 0815629516 p 156
  4. ^ Samir Khalaf, Philip Shukry Khoury (1993) Recovering Beirut: Urban Design and Post-war Reconstruction BRILL, ISBN 9004099115 p 253
  5. ^ Younis, Mona (2000) Liberation and Democratization: The South African and Palestinian National Movements University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816633002 p 221
  6. ^ a b Kissinger, Henry (1999) Years of Renewal Simon Schuster, ISBN 1-84212-042-5 p 1022
  7. ^ Karantina massacre#cite note-H1500-6
  8. ^ Yair Evron (1987) War and Intervention in Lebanon: The Israeli-Syrian Deterrence Dialogue Routledge, ISBN 0709914512 p 13
  9. ^ Amal Kawar (1996) Daughters of Palestine: Leading Women of the Palestinian National Movement SUNY Press, ISBN 0791428451 p 65
  10. ^ a b Walid Kazziha (1979) Palestine in the Arab dilemma Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0856648647 p 54
  11. ^,9171,926327-2,00.html
  12. ^ Robert Fisk (2002) Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192801309 p 98
  13. ^ Barry M. Rubin (1994) Revolution Until Victory?: The Politics and History of the PLO, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674768035 p 50
  14. ^ Faces of Lebanon: sects, wars, and global extensions, William W. Harris, (NY 1997), pages 166-67

External links[edit]


  • William Harris, Faces of Lebanon. Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions (Markus Wiener Publishers, Princeton, USA 1996)
  • Helena Cobban, The Making of Modern Lebanon (Hutchinson, London, UK 1985, ISBN 0091607914)