Siege of Tel al-Zaatar
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|Tel al-Zaatar massacre|
|Part of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1977)|
|Commanders and leaders|
|LF: ~ 3,000||PLO: ~ 1,200|
|Casualties and losses|
|LF: 200||1,500 to 3,000 Palestinians killed|
The siege of Tel al-Zaatar (Arabic: حصار تل الزعتر) was an armed siege of Tel al-Zaatar (Hill of Tyme), a fortified, UNRWA-administered refugee camp housing Palestinian refugees in northeastern Beirut. The siege was carried out by Christian Lebanese militias led by the Lebanese Front as part of a wider campaign to expel Palestinians, especially those affiliated with the radical wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), from northern Beirut.
At the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War, the country was home to a disproportionately large Palestinian population, which was divided along political lines. Tel al-Zaatar was a refugee camp of about 3,000 structures, which housed 20,000 refugees in early 1976, and was populated primarily by supporters of the As-Sa'iqa faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Many of the original inhabitants left to fight with As-Sa'iqa between January and June 1976, and this led to the Arab Liberation Front, another PLO faction, gradually assuming de facto control of the camp. The PLO fortified Tel al-Zaatar and began using the camp to cache munitions and supplies for its armed wing.
Christian militias such as the Kataeb Regulatory Forces and the Guardians of the Cedars began attacking Palestinian refugee camps shortly after the war began due to the PLO's support for Muslim and leftist factions. On January 18, they forcibly took control of the Karantina district, resulting in the Karantina Massacre. The Christian forces were initially leery of escalating PLO involvement in the war, but Karantina was inhabited partly by Lebanese Muslims and was located along the main road they needed to resupply their positions in Beirut, so it was considered a legitimate target. However, the PLO joined Muslim militias in retaliating for the Karantina Massacre by massacring the Christian population of Damour.
Damour was a stronghold for the National Liberal Party (NLP), a Christian faction affiliated with Lebanese Front, which led to the Christian militias declaring war on the PLO by the end of January. Tel al-Zaatar was immediately surrounded by 500 troops from the Kataeb Regulatory Forces, 500 from the NLP's armed wing (the Tigers Militia), and 400 others from various other militias, namely the Guardians of the Cedars. The militias were joined by about 300 members of the Lebanese security forces. They were equipped with Super Sherman tanks and a squadron of Panhard AML-90 armoured cars.
There were 1,500 armed PLO fighters inside the camp at the time. They were mostly affiliated with As-Sa'iqa and the Arab Liberation Front. There were also smaller groups of fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command. To complicate matters further, there were unaffiliated fighters present who fought under the PLO umbrella but did not support any one faction, mostly foreign fedayeen. Factionalism within the camp contributed greatly to the success of the siege, as most of the As-Sa'iqa militants and As-Sa'iqa supporters left.
The siege and its aftermath
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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. The Lebanese Christian militias had laid siege to the refugee camp for 3 months. When the camp fell, the Palestinian deaths numbered in the thousands. The besieging militia's loss was around 200 armed men.
The siege is said to have contributed to the mounting Sunni Muslim dissent within Alawi-ruled Syria. As a result, Syria broke off its offensive on the PLO and the LNM, and agreed to an Arab League summit which temporarily suspended hostilities in Lebanon.
The slow death through dehydration of thousands of Palestinians was one of the greatest atrocities of post-1945 Middle Eastern history.
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.
Estimations of the numbers of victims
- 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.
- Canadian artist Jayce Salloum states that 2,000 people died during the entire siege, and 4,000 were wounded.
- World Socialist Web Site gives a figure "2,000 refugees" for Tel al-Zaatar.
- Cobban, Helena (1984), The Palestinian Liberation Organisation: People, Power, and Politics, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521272165 p 73
- Price, Daniel E. (1999). Islamic Political Culture, Democracy, and Human Rights: A Comparative Study. Greenwood Publishing Company, ISBN 9780275961879, p. 68.
- Lisa Suhair Majaj, Paula W. Sunderman, and Therese Saliba Intersections Syracuse University Press ISBN 0815629516 p 156
- Samir Khalaf, Philip Shukry Khoury (1993) Recovering Beirut: Urban Design and Post-war Reconstruction BRILL, ISBN 9004099115 p 253
- Younis, Mona (2000) Liberation and Democratization: The South African and Palestinian National Movements University of Minnesota Press, ISBN 0816633002 p 221
- United States Army Human Engineering Laboratory (June 1979). Military Operations in selected Lebanese built-up areas, 1975–1978 (PDF). Technical Memorandum 11–79 (Report). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 1, 2014.
- Karantina massacre#cite note-H1500-6
- Walid Kazziha (1979) Palestine in the Arab dilemma Taylor & Francis, ISBN 0856648647 p 54
- Robert Fisk (2002) Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War Oxford University Press, ISBN 0192801309 p 98
- Halliday, F 2005, The Middle East in International Relations : Power, Politics and Ideology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [8 October 2018].
- Barry M. Rubin (1994) Revolution Until Victory?: The Politics and History of the PLO, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674768035 p 50
- Faces of Lebanon: sects, wars, and global extensions, William W. Harris, (NY 1997), pages 166-67
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-03-20. Retrieved 2008-03-27.
- Shaoul, Jean; Marsden, Chris (16 June 2000). "The bitter legacy of Syria's Hafez al-Assad". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
- 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)
- Information and Pictures from the Lebanese Civil War 'liberty05.com' Tel-el-Zaatar (the Hill of Thyme) was the largest and strongest Palestinian refugee camp established in 1948, Includes several pictures from The Battle of Tel al-Zaatar.
- Arafat's Massacre of Damour - Canada Free Press