Lebanon News - History

Lebanon News - History

LEBANON

In The News

Lebanon-Israel border finally gets UN troops


Lebanon News & Current Events

The second Israeli invasion came on June 6, 1982, after an assassination attempt by Palestinian terrorists on the Israeli ambassador in London. As a base of the PLO, Lebanon became the Israelis' target. Nearly 7,000 Palestinians were dispersed to other Arab nations. The violence seemed to have come to an end when, on Sept. 14, Bashir Gemayel, the 34-year-old president-elect, was killed by a bomb that destroyed the headquarters of his Christian Phalangist Party. Following his assassination, Christian militiamen massacred about 1,000 Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, but Israel denied responsibility.

The massacre in the refugee camps prompted the return of a multinational peacekeeping force. Its mandate was to support the central Lebanese government, but it soon found itself drawn into the struggle for power between different Lebanese factions. The country was engulfed in chaos and instability. During their stay in Lebanon, 241 U.S. Marines and about 60 French soldiers were killed, most of them in suicide bombings of the U.S. Marine and French army compounds on Oct. 23, 1983. The multinational force withdrew in the spring of 1984. In 1985, the majority of Israeli troops withdrew from the country, but Israel left some troops along a buffer zone on the southern Lebanese border, where they engaged in ongoing skirmishes with Palestinian groups. The Palestinian terrorist group Hezbollah, or ?Party of God,? was formed in the 1980s during Israel's second invasion of Lebanon. With financial backing from Iran, it has launched attacks against Israel for more than 20 years.

In July 1986, Syrian observers took up a position in Beirut to monitor a peacekeeping agreement. The agreement broke down and fighting between Shiite and Druze militia in West Beirut became so intense that Syrian troops mobilized in Feb. 1987, suppressing militia resistance. In 1991, a treaty of friendship was signed with Syria, which in effect gave Syria control over Lebanon's foreign relations. In early 1991, the Lebanese government, backed by Syria, regained control over the south and disbanded various militias, thereby ending the 16-year civil war, which had destroyed much of the infrastructure and industry of Lebanon.

Israeli Attacks and Syrian Meddling Continue

In June 1999, just before Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu left office, Israel bombed southern Lebanon, its most severe attack on the country since 1996. In May 2000, Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Barak, withdrew Israeli troops after 18 consecutive years of occupation.

In the summer of 2001, Syria withdrew nearly all of its 25,000 troops from Beirut and surrounding areas. About 14,000 troops, however, remained in the countryside. With the continuation of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2002, Hezbollah again began building up forces along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

In Aug. 2004, in a stark reminder of its iron grip on Lebanon, Syria insisted that Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, mile Lahoud, remain in office beyond the constitutional limit of one six-year term. Despite outrage in the country, the Lebanese parliament did Syria's bidding, permitting Lahoud to serve for three more years.

Syrian Occupation Ends, but Syrian Influence Continues

A UN Security Council resolution in Sept. 2004 demanded that Syria remove the troops it had stationed in Lebanon for the past 28 years. Syria responded by moving about 3,000 troops from the vicinity of Beirut to eastern Lebanon, a gesture that was viewed by many as merely symbolic. As a result, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (1992?1998, 2000?2004), largely responsible for Lebanon's economic rebirth in the past decade, resigned. On Feb. 14, 2005, he was killed by a car bomb. Many suspected Syria of involvement and large protests ensued, calling for Syria's withdrawal from the country. After two weeks of protests by Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Druze parties, pro-Syrian prime minister Omar Karami resigned on Feb. 28. Several days later, Syria made a vague pledge to withdraw its troops but failed to announce a timetable. On March 8, the militant group Hezbollah sponsored a massive pro-Syrian rally, primarily made up of Shiites. Hundreds of thousands gathered to thank Syria for its involvement in Lebanon. The pro-Syrian demonstrations led to President Lahoud's reappointment of Karami as prime minister on March 9. But an anti-Syrian protest?twice the size of the Hezbollah protest?followed. In mid-March, Syria withdrew 4,000 troops and redeployed the remaining 10,000 to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which borders Syria. In April, Omar Karami resigned a second time after failing to form a government. Lebanon's new prime minister, Najib Mikati?a compromise candidate between the pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian groups?announced that new elections would be held in May. On April 26, after 29 years of occupation, Syria withdrew all of its troops.

In May and June 2005, Syria held four rounds of parliamentary elections. An anti-Syrian alliance led by Saad al-Hariri, the 35-year-old son of assassinated former prime minister leader Rafik Hariri, won 72 out of 128 seats. Former finance minister Fouad Siniora, who was closely associated with Hariri, became prime minister.

On Sept. 1, four were charged in the murder of Rafik Hariri. The commander of Lebanon's Republican Guard, the former head of general security, the former chief of Lebanon's police, and the former military intelligence officer were indicted for the Feb. 2008 assassination. On Oct. 20, the UN released a report concluding that the assassination was carefully organized by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials, including Syria's military intelligence chief, Asef Shawkat, who is the brother-in-law of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

A Failed Israeli Attack Increases Hezbollah's Power

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters entered Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers. In response, Israel launched a major military attack, bombing the Lebanese airport and other major infrastructures, as well as parts of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, retaliated by launching hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel (Iran supplies Hezbollah with weapons, which are transported through Syria). After a week of fighting, Israel made it clear that its offensive in Lebanon would continue until Hezbollah was routed. Although much of the international community demanded a cease-fire, the United States supported Israel's plan to continue the fighting until Hezbollah was drained of its military power (Hezbollah is thought to have at least 12,000 rockets and missiles and had proved a much more formidable foe than anticipated). On Aug. 14, a UN-negotiated cease-fire went into effect. The UN planned to send a 15,000-member peacekeeping force. About 1,150 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the 34 days of fighting. More than 400,000 Lebanese were forced from their homes. Almost immediately, Hezbollah began organizing reconstruction efforts, and handing out financial aid to families who had lost their homes, shoring up loyalty from Shiite civilians.

In November, Pierre Gemayel, minister of industry and member of a well-known Maronite Christian political dynasty, was assassinated, the fifth anti-Syrian leader to be killed since the death of Rafik Hariri in Feb. 2005. Pro-government protesters blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies, and staged large demonstrations following the assassination. These protests were then followed by even larger and more sustained demonstrations by Hezbollah supporters. Beginning Dec. 1, tens of thousands of demonstrators, led by the Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, occupied the center of Beirut and called for the resignation of the pro-Western coalition government.

About 60 people were killed in May 2007 in battles between government troops and members of Islamic militant group Fatah al-Islam, which is based in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli in Lebanon. The group is similar in philosophy to al-Qaeda.

Terrorism Within Lebanon Leads to a Troubled Government

In June 2007, anti-Syrian member of Parliament Walid Eido was killed in a bombing in Beirut. In Sept. 2007, another anti-Syrian lawmaker, Antoine Ghanem of the Christian Phalange Party, which is part of the governing coalition, was assassinated. Those assassinations were followed in December with the killing of Gen. Franois al-Hajj, a top general who was poised to succeed army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman.

In Sept. 2007, Hezbollah legislators boycotted the session of Parliament at which lawmakers were to vote on a new president. The Hezbollah faction had wanted the governing coalition to put forward a compromise candidate. Parliament adjourned the session and rescheduled elections. A caretaker government, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, took over on November 24 after President mile Lahoud's term expired and Parliament for the fourth time postponed a vote on his successor.

Hezbollah Flexes Its Muscle and Gains a Greater Stake in the Government

Tension in Lebanon peaked in February 2008, after the assassination of top Hezbollah military commander, Imad Mugniyah. He was killed in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria. Mugniyah is thought to have orchestrated a series of bombings and kidnappings in the 1980s and 1990s, and he was one of America's most wanted men with a price tag of $25 million on his head. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who accused Israel of arranging the assassination, called for an "open war" against Israel.

Sectarian violence between Hezbollah, a Shiite militia, and Sunnis broke out in May. Fighting began when the government said it was shutting down a telecommunications network run by Hezbollah, calling it illegal, and attempted to dismiss a Hezbollah-backed head of airport security. Members of Hezbollah took control of large swaths of western Beirut, forced a government-supported television station off the air, and burned the offices of a newspaper loyal to the government. The government accused Hezbollah of staging an "armed coup." After a week of violence, in which 65 people died, the government rescinded its plans concerning both the telecommunications network and the head of airport security. In return, Hezbollah agreed to dismantle roadblocks that had paralyzed Beirut's airport. The government concessions were seen as a major victory for Hezbollah.

After several days of negotiations, Hezbollah and the government reached a deal that had Hezbollah withdrawing from Beirut. In return, the government agreed that Parliament would vote to elect as president Gen. Michel Suleiman, the commander of Lebanon?s army form a new cabinet, giving Hezbollah and other members of the opposition veto power and pursue passage of a new electoral law. Parliament went ahead and elected Suleiman as president. He's considered a neutral figure, and his election ended 18 months of political gridlock. Prime Minister Siniora formed a 30-member cabinet in July, with the opposition holding 11 positions.

Lebanon and Israel took part in a prisoner exchange in July. Israel released five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kuntar, who killed an Israeli policeman, a man, and his young daughter in 1979. Lebanon, in turn, returned to Israel the bodies of two soldiers who were captured in the 2006 cross-border raid into Israel.

Suleiman met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in October 2008, and the two agreed that Lebanon and Syria would establish full diplomatic relations?for the first time since both countries gained independence from France in 1943.

Pro-Western Coalition Maintains Its Majority in Parliament

On March 1, 2009 an international court at The Hague was set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. The move generated hope that progress was being made in the case. However, in May the court freed four pro-Syrian generals who had been linked to the murder, claiming it lacked evidence to convict them.

In June 2009 parliamentary elections, the March 14 coalition, led by Saad Hariri, son of the slain former prime minister, retained its majority in Parliament by taking 71 of 128 seats. The Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition won 57 seats. After nearly five months of negotiations with the opposition Hariri finally assembled a 30-member government of national unity in November. His coalition received 15 cabinet posts, Hezbollah and its allies 10, and President Suleiman selected the remaining five.

Lebanon's government fell apart in January 2011, when Hezbollah's ministers resigned from the cabinet to protest Prime Minister Hariri's refusal to reject the UN tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri. The tribunal released a sealed indictment to a judge that is expected to include members of Hezbollah. In fact, Hezbollah said its members were included in the indictment, yet continued to deny responsibility for Hariri's murder. Two weeks after the government's collapse, Hezbollah won enough support in Parliament to form a new government with Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman, as prime minister. Mikati, a Sunni and former prime minister, said even though he was backed by Hezbollah, he will govern as an independent. After five months of negotiations, Mikati assembled a cabinet in June, with 16 out of 30 seats going to Hezbollah and its allies. The main reason for the delay was the opposition's insistence that the government abide by the tribunal's recommendations Hezbollah had refused to comply with them. The cabinet, however, agreed to cooperate with the tribunal as long as the country's stability was not at risk. Later in the month, the tribunal issued arrest warrants for four high-ranking members of Hezbollah in connection wtih the murder of Hariri and 21 others. Hezbollah refused to turn the suspects over to authorities.

Lebanon Dragged into War in Syria

When anti-government protests broke out in Syria in early 2011, prime minister Mikati declared he intended to disassociate from Syria to avoid being drawn into the conflict. The policy was largely effective until May 2012, when battles broke out in Lebanon between pro- and anti-Assad groups. Hezbollah supports President Bashar Assad, while most Sunni groups would like to see him deposed. Tensions increased in August during a sectarian, cross-border kidnapping spree between Shiite and Sunni groups. Then, on October 19, intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, a foe of Syria who was an ally of slain prime minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in a bombing in Beirut. Hassan was the driving force behind the arrest of former Michel Samaha, Lebanon's former information minister who had close ties to Syria, on charges of orchestrating attacks and assassinations of Sunnis in Lebanon. Many people suspect Samaha was taking orders from Assad, who sought to destabilize the region by fomenting sectarian violence in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Mikati Resigns

On March 22, 2013, Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in protest over parliament's failure to agree on how to oversee upcoming elections. Mikati was also unhappy with the cabinet's refusal to consider extending the police chief's tenure. Tammam Salam was asked to form a government in April 2013. After 10 months of negotiations, Salam formed a cabinet represented equally by members of the pro-Syria, Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition and the Western-backed March 14th group headed by Saad Hariri. Salam assumed office as prime minister in Feb. 2014. Salam previously served as minister of culture from 2008 to 2009.

Civil War in Syria Spills over into Lebanon

In May 2013, Syria's civil war spilled into Lebanon, mainly due to Hezbollah's increased involvement. On May 25, 2013, Hezbollah and Syrian forces bombed the rebel-controlled town of Al-Qusayr in the Syrian province of Homs. Dozens were killed. The following day, multiple rockets hit Beirut, mainly striking Shiite suburbs, also strongholds of Hezbollah. The ban against arming the Syrian rebels was lifted by the European Union on May 27, 2013.

Fighting also erupted in Tripoli in late May 2013. The battles occurred between Sunnis and Alawites, allies of Hezbollah. The fighting between the two militias was so intense that schools and businesses in Tripoli were closed for a week. At least 24 people were killed. Sectarian violence broke out again in June when an armed, extremist Sunni group led by Sheikh Ahmed Assir attacked an army checkpoint in Sidon. Government troops, backed by Hezbollah, retaliated. About 35 people were killed in the fighting.

On May 31, 2013, Parliament voted to delay elections in Lebanon for at least 17 months, citing indecision over a new electoral law and the deteriorating security in the country as a result of the Syrian crisis spreading into Lebanon. Parliamentary elections were supposed to take place on June 16, 2013. It was the first time an election had been delayed since Lebanon's civil war ended in 1990. A national unity government was formed in Feb. 2014, ending 10 months of deadlock caused by a power struggle between blocks led by Hezbollah and Sunnis. Tammam Salam took office as prime minister. He cited improving security and dealing with Syrian refugees as his top priorities.

The European Union declared the military wing of Hezbollah a terrorist organization in July 2013. The move makes it illegal for Europeans to send money or arms to Hezbollah and freezes the assets held in European institutions by the group's members. The U.S. has long considered Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

A double suicide bombing outside the Iranian Embassy in Beirut killed at least 23 people in November 2013. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, takes responsibility for the attack, which is seen as retribution for Iran's support of Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

The former Lebanese finance minister and U.S. ambassador, Muhammad Shatah, was killed by a car bomb, along with seven others in Beirut in December 2013. Shatah was a leading Sunni and his death, coupled with the Syrian crisis, has served to exacerbate existing tensions within Lebanon's religous communities about a third of the population are Sunni Muslim, a third Shia, and a third Christian.

By April 2014, more than 1 million Syrian refugees had entered Lebanon, exacting an economic burden on the country of 4 million.

On Jan. 18, 2015, one Iranian general and six Hezbollah fighters were killed during an Israeli air strike on the Syrian section of Golan Heights. After the attack, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened retaliation. Ten days later Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into an Israeli-occupied area along the Lebanon border, killing two Israeli soldiers. Israeli forces responded with ground and air strikes on several villages in southern Lebanon. The exchange was the worst fighting between Hezbollah and Israel since their 2006 month long war. Despite the attacks, both sides indicated that they were not interested in engaging in an ongoing conflict.


A long time coming

For years, the central bank had been borrowing from private banks to maintain a fixed exchange rate of 1,507 Lebanese lira to the U.S. dollar. This kept the prices of imports down. But the loans from the private banks were effectively coming from the deposits of ordinary Lebanese, who had been encouraged to deposit their money with promises of interest rates of up to 15 percent.

This costly 30-year artificial peg to the dollar brought the house of cards tumbling as over the years confidence waned, corruption grew, remittances from the diaspora shrank and backing from Saudi Arabia slowed.

Eventually, the government, the banks — and the people — ran out of money.

In just over a month, the currency has lost 60 percent of its value. Kekhia hasn’t found any work in eight months.

He used to earn between 25,000 ($16.50) and 50,000 lira ($33.17) per day. Today, that would be worth only between $2.70 and $5.55.

Food inflation has hit almost 200 percent. The prices of many items in the supermarket have tripled.

“We used to eat with this money,” Kekhia said. “Now there’s no food. No work. No medication.”

Today, with the price of a kilo (2.2 pounds) of meat at the equivalent of $33, even the army no longer gives it to soldiers.

The wealth disparity was pronounced before the crisis. Sports cars zipped around Beirut in areas packed with tourists.

At the same time, the World Bank was estimating that every other person in Lebanon’s 6 million population would live below the poverty line by the end of this year. Food security experts now estimate three-quarters of the population will be on food handouts by the end of the year.

Salaries are worthless and decades of savings have disappeared. Middle-income earners, who make up the bulk of the population, have become poor.

Facebook is flooded with people trying to barter clothes, furniture and other items so that they can get baby formula, cooking oil and other basics.


Timeline: Lebanon

September 1 – The state of Greater Lebanon is created after France is granted a mandate for Lebanon and Syria by the League of Nations.

Greater Lebanon includes the former autonomous province of Mount Lebanon – historically a stronghold of Maronite Christians and Druze Muslims – as well as the Syrian provinces of north Lebanon, south Lebanon and the Bekaa.

In depth

ANALYSIS
The battle for votes
Lebanon-Syria ties
Political dynasties
Palestinian refugees

BACKGROUND

Electoral system
Country profile
Country timeline

IN VIDEO
/>Video: Arab Street
/>Video: Family Business

INTERACT
/>Your views
/>Your media

Britain holds the mandate for Palestine.

May 23 – The Lebanese Republic is declared after approval of a constitution by the Lebanese Representative Council.

A national census is held – the only official census in Lebanon’s history. It shows the Maronite Christian community as being the largest sectarian group, with Sunni Muslims next-largest, then Shia Muslims. Greek Orthodox comprise the fourth-largest, and Druze Muslims are the fifth-largest.

The Vichy government of France assumes control of Lebanon.

Free French and British troops invade Lebanon and Beirut is captured from Vichy forces. France promises to grant Lebanon independence.

The 1932 census figures are used to determine the distribution of seats in the Chamber of Deputies, on a ratio of six Maronite Christians to five Muslims.

The highest political posts are also distributed along sectarian lines. The president is to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the house speaker a Shia Muslim.

November-December – Free French forces hold members of the Lebanese government after they declare an end to the mandate. They are released on November 22, which is later known as independence day.

January 1 – France transfers power to the Lebanese government.

The state of Israel is created. Israel-Palestine war results in the exodus of thousands of Palestinians into Lebanon and Jordan.

Camille Chamoun, Lebanon’s president, accepts the Eisenhower Doctrine. The doctrine offers US economic and military aid to countries in an effort to counteract Soviet global influence.

Muslims rally to pan-Arab calls of Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt.

July 14 – Camille Chamoun, Lebanon’s president, appeals to the US to send troops.

July 15 – US marines land in Beirut to re-establish the authority of the Lebanese government.

Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, moved the PLO headquarters to Beirut in 1970 [AFP]

December 28 – Israel launches air raid on Beirut airport in response to an attack by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on an Israeli aircraft in Athens. Thirteen civilian aircraft are destroyed.

November – Emile Bustani, Israel’s army commander-in-chief and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), sign an agreement in Cairo which aims to stop Palestinian fighters from launching operations from Lebanon.

The PLO sets up its headquarters in Beirut after being driven out of Jordan. PLO raids from southern Lebanon increase.

April 10 – Israel launches commando raid into Beirut. Three Palestinian leaders are killed.

April 11 – Lebanese government resigns.

April 13 – Christian Phalange fighters ambush a bus in Ain-al-Rumannah, Beirut, killing 27 passengers. Most of those killed are Palestinian. The Phalangists claim Palestinian fighters had previously attacked a church in the same area. The ambush is generally regarded as the spark which ignited Lebanon’s civil war.

December – In an event later described as Black Saturday, four Christians are found shot dead in east Beirut. Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Phalange militia, orders reprisals. Around 40 Muslim men are stopped at Christian roadblocks and murdered. Muslim militias retaliate in a similar fashion. By the end of the day, about 300 Muslims and 300 Christians have been murdered.

Civil war intensifies. Christians kill Palestinian civilians at Karantina and Tel el-Zaatar, while Palestinians kill Christians at Damour.

June – Suleiman Franjieh, Lebanon’s president, invites Syria to intervene in the war. As the Muslim-left alliance in Lebanon gains an upper hand in the fighting, Hafez al-Assad, Syria’s president, orders troops into Lebanon.

Syrian troops occupy all but the far south of the country.

October – A ceasefire is agreed following Arab summit meetings. A mainly Syrian Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) is set up to maintain the ceasefire.

March 14/15 – Israel invades Lebanon after PLO fighters launch an attack into its territory. Israeli troops push up as far the Litani river, approximately 40km north of the Israel-Lebanon border.

March 19 – United Nations Security Council resolution 425 is passed. It calls on Israel to withdraw from all Lebanese territory and establishes the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) to oversee the withdrawal. Unifil is also charged with the responsibility of restoring peace and Lebanese government authority over south Lebanon.

Instead of handing south Lebanon to Unifil control, Israel passes control of the land to its proxy army, the pro-Christian South Lebanon Army (SLA).

Clashes continue between Israel, Israel-backed fighters and the PLO in south Lebanon.

1982

June 6 – Israeli army launches Operation Peace for Galilee invasion in response to attempted assassination of Israeli ambassador to London.

Over the following weeks Israeli troops attack Syrian forces in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, and surround Muslim west Beirut. Israel demands that PLO fighters and Syrians leave Beirut.

September – PLO forces evacuate Lebanon, under the supervision of US-French-Italian forces. Yasser Arafat, the organisation’s leader, leaves Beirut for Tunisia.

Around 800 refugees were killed during the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre

September 14 – Bashir Gemayel, leader of the Christian Phalange militia and Lebanon’s president-elect, is assassinated.

September 15 – Israeli forces occupy west Beirut.

September 16-18 – In reprisal for the assassination of Gemayel, Phalangist militia massacre hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southwest Beirut.

September 21 – Bashir Gemayel’s elder brother, Amin Gemayel, is elected president.

September 24 – A US-French-Italian multinational force, requested by Lebanon, arrives in Beirut.

April 18 – A suicide bomber detonates an explosives-laden lorry drives into the US embassy on Beirut’s seafront. Sixty-three people are killed and more than 100 are hurt. Islamic Jihad claims responsibility.

May 17 – Israel and Lebanon sign a peace agreement in Naquora on condition Israel that withdraws from Lebanon.

September – US warships shell Muslim areas of Beirut in support of Amin Gemayel’s government.

October 23 – At least 241 US Marines and 58 French paratroopers are killed in an Islamic Jihad suicide lorry-bomb attack on the US Marine base in Beirut.

Multinational force leaves Beirut after Lebanese government falls.

Several westerners are abducted in Beirut, including William Buckley, station chief for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

By June 6 most Israeli troops withdraw. Some Israeli troops remain in support of proxy SLA.

SLA maintains a so-called security zone in south Lebanon.

May 19 – Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (Amal), a Shia militia group, begins shelling Palestinian refugee camps in south Beirut.

June 16 – A passenger aircraft is hijacked by two alleged members of Hezbollah, an armed Shia organisation. The hijackers demand the release of Shia Muslims in Israeli jails. Syrian mediation resolves the crisis.

Several more Westerners, including Terry Anderson, a journalist for the Associated Press news agency, are seized.

Amal continues attacks on Palestinian camps. Abductions of Westerners continue.

January – Terry Waite, special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, disappears in west Beirut while seeking the release of other Western hostages.

May 21 – Lebanon cancels 1969 Cairo agreement with the PLO, and also abrogates the May 17 1983 agreement with Israel.

June 1 – Salim al-Hoss becomes acting prime minister after Rashid Karami is killed in a bomb attack.

Refugees in camps across Lebanon have been attacked by various factions [ITN]

September 22 – Lebanese parliament fails to elect a successor to Amin Gemayel, Lebanon’s prime minister. Gemayel appoints a six-member interim military government, comprising three Christians and three Muslims.

Lebanon now has two governments – Salim al-Hoss heads the Muslim government in west Beirut while General Michel Aoun, the Maronite commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Army, controls east Beirut.

March 14 – Michel Aoun declares war on Syrian army in Lebanon. Syrian forces, backed by their Lebanese militia allies, respond by besieging east Beirut. Aoun backs down.

October 22 – Lebanon’s National Assembly meets in Taif, Saudi Arabia. A Document of National Reconciliation is drawn up, which transfers executive power from the president to the cabinet. The previous 6:5 ratio of Christian to Muslims seats in the assembly is adjusted so that an equal balance between members is achieved.

October 13 – Syrian air attacks force Michel Aoun from the presidential palace at Ba’abda.

The Lebanese civil war ends.

December 24 – Omar Karami heads a government of ‘national reconciliation’.

The national assembly order that all militias be dissolved by April 30. The assembly permits Hezbollah to remain active. The SLA refuses to disarm.

May 22 – A Treaty of Brotherhood, Co-operation and Co-ordination is signed in Damascus by Lebanon and Syria.

July 1 – The Lebanese army defeats the PLO in Sidon. The army now faces the SLA and the Israelis in Jezzine, just north of the SLA’s so-called security zone.

August 26 – The national assembly grants amnesty for all crimes committed during the civil war. Aoun gets a presidential pardon and heads for exile in France.

February 16 – Sheikh Abbas al-Moussawi, Hezbollah’s secretary-general, is killed when Israeli helicopter shoot at his motorcade near the town of Sidon.

By 17 June, all Western hostages have been released.

August-September – the first elections since 1972 take place in Lebanon.

October 20 – Nabih Berri, leader of Amal, becomes house speaker of the national assembly.

October 31 – Rafiq al-Hariri, a businessman with involvement in reconstruction and real estate, become prime minister.

July 25 – Israel launches Operation Accountability in south Lebanon, in an attempt to crush Hezbollah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC).

April 11 – Israel launches Operation Grapes of Wrath, bombing Hezbollah bases in southern Lebanon, south Beirut and the Bekaa.

April 18 – Israel shells a UN compound at Qana where Lebanese civilians are seeking cover from the bombing – 106 people die in the attack.

April 26 – A memorandum of understanding is reached, under which Hezbollah and Palestinian fighters agree not to attack civilians in northern Israel, in return for Hezbollah’s right to resist Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon.

April 1 – Israel’s inner cabinet votes to accept United Nations Security Council resolution 425 of 1978 in return for Lebanese guarantees of security along Israel’s northern border. Lebanon and Syria reject the proposal.

November 24 – Emile Lahoud, head of the Lebanese army, is sworn in as president.

December 4 – Salim al-Hoss becomes prime minister.

June 3 – The SLA withdraws from Jezzine, a town north of the ‘security zone’. It had occupied Jezzine since 1985.

April 18 – Israel releases 13 Lebanese prisoners held without trial for over a decade. It extends the detention of two other prisoners.

May 24 – Israel withdraws its forces from south Lebanon after the collapse of its proxy South Lebanon Army.

May 25 – An annual public holiday – Resistance and Liberation Day – is announced.

October – Rafiq al-Hariri becomes prime minister of Lebanon for the second time.

March – Lebanon starts pumping water from a tributary of the River Jordan to a village on the Lebanon-Israel border. Israel opposes the move.

January – Elie Hobeika, intelligence chief of the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces militia at the time of the massacres of Palestinians at Sabra and Chatila, is killed in a car bomb blast in Beirut. The blast comes after Hobeika claimed he held tapes and documents challenging Israel’s account of the massacres.

September – Israel criticises a Lebanese plan to divert water from the Wazzani river on the Lebanon-Israel border, and threatens military force.

August – Ali Hussein Saleh, a member of Hezbollah, is killed when a bomb explodes in his car in Beirut. Hezbollah and a government minister blame Israel for the attack.

September – United Nations Security Council resolution 1559 is passed. The resolution calls for the exit of all foreign forces from Lebanon. It is aimed at Syria, whose troops and security personnel remain in the country. The resolution also calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia.

Parliament extends the presidential mandate of Emile Lahoud by three years. Rafiq al-Hariri, who opposed the extension of Lahoud’s term – resigns as prime minister.

February 14 – Rafiq al-Hariri is killed in a car bomb blast in Beirut. Twenty-one other people die in the blast, including Basil Fleihan, former economy minister.

March 8 – A Hezbollah-organised rally takes place in Beirut, demonstrating support for Syria in answer to widespread anti-Syrian sentiment across Lebanon.

Rafik al-Harriri’s assassination sparked what became known as the Cedar Revolution [EPA]

March 14 – Thousands of people attend a rally at Martyr’s Square in Beirut, demanding ‘the truth’ regarding Hariri’s assassination and calling for an end to Syria’s presence in Lebanon.

April – Omar Karami, the pro-Syrian prime minister, resigns after failing to form a government. Najib Mikati succeeds him.

Syria withdraws its forces from Lebanon, in line with UN Security Council resolution 1559.

June 2 – Samir Kassir, a journalist and critic of Syrian influence, is killed by a car bomb in Beirut.

The March 14 Forces, an alliance led by Saad al-Hariri, son of assassinated Rafiq al-Hariri, wins control of parliament after elections. The new parliament chooses Fouad Siniora, a former minister of finance, as prime minister.

June 21- George Hawi, anti-Syrian former leader of the Lebanese Communist Party, is killed in a car bomb blast.

July – Fouad Sinora, Lebanon’s prime minister, meets Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria. Both countries pledge to rebuild relations.

July 12: Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, is wounded in a car bombing in a northeast Beirut suburb. One person is killed and nine others are wounded.

September – Four pro-Syrian generals are charged over the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri.

September 25: May Chidiac, a journalist, is badly wounded by a bomb placed in her car in north Beirut.

December 12 – Gibran Tueni, an MP and editor of the An-Nahar newspaper, is killed in a car bomb in Beirut. Two other people are killed.

February – Demonstrations take place in Beirut in the wake of the publication of cartoons satirising Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper. Denmark’s embassy in Beirut is set on fire.

July – The Islamic Resistance, Hezbollah’s armed wing, captures two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Israel launches air- and sea-based attacks on targets in Lebanon. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians are killed and thousands are displaced. Hezbollah launches rockets into northern Israel, killing Israeli civilians.

August – Israeli ground troops enter south Lebanon.

August 14 – A truce between Hezbollah and Israel comes into effect. It brings an end to 34 days of fighting. More than 1,000 Lebanese – mostly civilians – have died, while 159 Israelis – most of them soldiers – have also been killed. Unifil2, a UN peacekeeping force with an expanded mandate, begins to deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border.

September – For the first time in decades, the Lebanese state army begins to deploy its forces along the southern border with Israel.

September 5: Lieutenant-Colonel Samir Shehadeh, an official linked to the inquiry into the Hariri murder, is wounded and four of his bodyguards killed in a blast in south Beirut.

November 21: Pierre Gemayel, Lebanon’s industry minister, and his bodyguard are shot dead in Jdeideh, north of the capital.

December 1 – Hezbollah, Amal and supporters of Michel Aoun, a Christian leader, camp outside the office of Fouad Siniora, the prime minister, in Beirut in an open-ended campaign to topple the government.

January 25 – Aid conference in Paris pledges more than $7.5bn to help Lebanon recover from its 2006 war with Israel.

June 13: Walid Eido, a Sunni MP of the ruling March 14 coalition, is killed a car bomb blast on Beirut’s seafront. Eido’s eldest son Khaled, two bodyguards and six other people are also killed.

September 2 – Lebanese troops seize complete control of Nahr al-Bared camp near the northern city of Tripoli after months of fighting with Fatah al-Islam fighters. More than 420 people, including 168 soldiers, are killed.

September 19: Antoine Ghanem, an MP from the March 14 bloc is killed by a car bomb blast in the Beirut suburb of Sin el-Fil. Five other people, including two of his bodyguards, are killed and more than 50 others are wounded.

November 23 – Emile Lahoud leaves the presidential palace at end of his term without a successor having been elected. The next day, Siniora says his cabinet is assuming executive powers.

December 5 – Nabih Berri, the parliament speaker, says rival Lebanese leaders have agreed on General Michel Sleiman as president, although parliament has yet to elect him.

December 12: A car bomb attack near Beirut kills Brigadier-General Francois al-Hajj and three others, wounding at least seven others.

January 15 – Car bomb in Christian area of Beirut kills at least three people and wounds 16, damages a US embassy car and destroys others.

January 25: Captain Wissam Eid, who was investigating leads on previous assassinations in Lebanon, is killed in a car bomb blast in a Beirut suburb.

Hezbollah, led by Hassan Nasrallah, used armed fighters internally in May 2008 [GALLO/GETTY]

February 12: Imad Moghaniyah, a senior member of Hezbollah’s military and security apparatus, is killed in a car bomb attack in Damascus, the Syrian capital. Hezbollah blames Israel for the attack. Tel Aviv denies involvement.

April 20 – In the Christian town of Zahle, two local officials of the Christian Phalange party, a member of the ruling anti-Syrian coalition, are killed.

April 22 – Parliament fails to hold a session to elect a president, the 18th time it has been unable to hold a vote.

May 6 – Tension between the government and Hezbollah escalates after the cabinet calls the group’s communication network a threat to the country’s sovereignty.

Hezbollah says it is infuriated by government allegations it had spied on Beirut airport and by the cabinet’s decision to fire the head of airport security, who was close to the opposition.

May 7 – About 10 people are wounded as government supporters clash with fighters loyal to the Hezbollah-led opposition in Beirut, who had locked down the capital.

May 8 – Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, says the government’s decision to dismantle his group’s communication network is an act of aggression.

Gun battles break out in Beirut, leaving several dead and many wounded.

An offer by Saad al-Hariri, the governing coalition leader, to refer the issue to the army, which has stayed neutral, is rejected by Hezbollah.

May 9 – Opposition forces seize control of west Beirut.

May 10 – Fouad Siniora, Lebanon’s prime minister, declares that the government will never declare war on Hezbollah but says the Shia group is trying to stage a coup.

The army rescinds the government’s demands, saying it will reinstate Beirut airport’s head of security and handle the issue of the Hezbollah’s communication network.

The army also calls on the opposition to withdraw its fighters from the streets.

Hezbollah and other groups allied to the opposition begin to pull their forces from Beirut’s streets. The army take over in a neutral security role.

May 10-11 – Pro and anti-government fighters clash overnight in the northern city of Tripoli. The Lebanese army is deployed to restore calm.

May 21 – Government and opposition representatives reach a power-sharing agreement after five days of talks in Qatar.

The Hezbollah-led opposition wins a greater share of seats in the cabinet, giving it an effective veto over any decisions reached by the executive.

Electoral districts in the capital are also recomposed in an effort to make them more representative.

May 25 – Sleiman is elected the new president in line with the Doha pact.

May 28 – Sleiman reappoints Siniora as prime minister at the head of a new unity government.

June 18 – Three people are killed and four others wounded in clashes between pro and anti-government supporters in the Bekaa valley.

June 22 – One person is killed and at least 24 are injured after heavy fighting erupts between pro and anti-government factions in the northern city of Tripoli. The clashes force the Lebanese army to withdraw from the area.

July – Sporadic fighting in Lebanon’s north breaks out between members of the rival Sunni Muslim and Alawite communities.

July 11 – National unity government announced.

September 16 – Rival political factions in Beirut hold first round of national reconciliation talks.

October – Lebanon formalises diplomatic relations with Syria for the first time.

March – UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspected killers of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, opens in The Hague, Netherlands.

April 29 – A judge at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon orders Lebanon to release four senior Lebanese generals held since 2005 on suspicion of involvement in Hariri’s killing.


Lebanon's crisis threatens one of its few unifiers, the army

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

File - in this November 22, 2018 file photo, Lebanese army special forces march during a military parade to mark the 74th anniversary of Lebanon's independence from France in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. The currency collapse has wiped out the salaries of the U.S.-backed Lebanese military, placed unprecedented pressure on the army's operational capabilities with some of the highest attrition rates over the past two years, and raised concerns about its ability to continue playing a stabilizing role while sectarian tensions and crime are on the rise. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)

BEIRUT – Since the civil war, through wars with Israel, militant bombings and domestic turmoil, Lebanese have considered their military as an anchor for stability, one of the only institutions standing above the country’s divisions.

But the military is now threatened by Lebanon’s devastating financial collapse, which the World Bank has said is likely to rank as one of the worst the world has seen in the past 150 years.

The economic meltdown is putting unprecedented pressure on the U.S.-backed army’s operational abilities, wiping out soldiers’ salaries and wrecking morale. The deterioration puts at risk one of the few forces unifying Lebanon at a time when sectarian tensions and crime are on the rise amid the population’s deepening poverty.

“Such a decline could be harbinger of the kinds of instability not seen since the last time Lebanon’s political elites gutted or set adrift the Lebanese armed forces, namely in the five years leading up to the 1975-1990 civil war,” said Aram Nerguizian, senior advisor of the Program on Civil-Military Affairs in Arab States at the Carnegie Middle East Center.

The military itself has raised the alarm, unusual for a force that is perhaps unique in the Middle East in that it largely remains outside politics.

Army chief Gen. Joseph Aoun warned in a speech to officers in March that soldiers were “suffering and hungry like the rest of the people.”

He also openly criticized the political leadership, which has been paralyzed by infighting and has done almost nothing to address the crisis. “What are you waiting for? What do you plan to do? We have warned more than once of the dangers of the situation,” he said — a startling comment since army officers are not allowed to make political statements.

A senior army official confirmed to The Associated Press that the economic situation has greatly affected morale. “There is no doubt that there is great resentment among the ranks of the military,” the official said.

The official noted that “many duties are demanded of the military,” including maintaining internal stability. “The leadership is worried over developments in the security situation on the ground and the ability to deal with this issue,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Supporting the army is crucial to avoid Lebanon falling into chaos, he added.

France is convening a virtual fundraising conference Thursday seeking emergency aid, after army chief Aoun visited Paris last month pleading for assistance. France warned that Lebanon’s military “may no longer be able to fully implement their missions which are essential to the country’s stability.” The U.S., the army’s largest backer, has pledged to increase aid in 2021.

The military in part counterbalances Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite faction that boasts a powerful armed force as well as political dominance. Nerguizian warned that degradation of the military would allow Hezbollah to loom even larger -- an outcome few outside Lebanon, particularly in Washington, want to see materialize.

It could also open the door for countries like Russia, China, Iran or Syria to co-opt the force and find ways to influence it.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command said earlier this month that the U.S. is committed to supporting the Lebanese army.

“They’re one of the elements of the Government of Lebanon that actually functions very well, and we believe they should continue to be the sole expression of military power of the state in Lebanon,” he said.

After decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political elite, Lebanon’s economy began to disintegrate in October 2019. The once-thriving banking sector has collapsed, and the currency has lost around 90 percent of its value to the dollar on the black market. More than half the nation h as been plunged into poverty.

Equally hit are the 80,000 members of the military. Before the crisis, an enlisted soldier earned the equivalent of about $800 a month, but that has now dropped to less than $100 per month. Officers’ salaries are higher but have also dropped in value, now about $400 a month.

The army has tightened spending. A year ago, it announced it would stop offering meat in meals given to soldiers on duty. It still offers free medical treatment, but those in the force say the quality and effectiveness has sharply deteriorated.

“Morale is below the ground,” said a 24-year-old soldier who quit the force in March after five years of service.

He said that by the time he left, the 1.2 million Lebanese pounds salary he received was barely enough for food, cigarettes and transportation. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Mohammad Olayan, who retired two years ago after more than 27 years in the military, told The Associated Press that his end-of-service pay has been wiped out by the crash. Instead of a decent retirement, he now must take odd jobs to sustain his 12-year-old twin girls.

“What incentive is there for young soldiers?” he asked. “I sacrificed so much for my country and look how I ended up because of this mafia,” he said, referring to politicians.

Nerguizian said that while overall cases of desertion remain relatively low, the force has seen increased instances of dereliction of duty, high AWOL rates and more moonlighting by personnel to augment salaries.

The last three years have also seen some of the largest attrition rates, with personnel choosing to leave the military, he said. “More worryingly, the force is losing quality officers and noncommissioned officers - the gray matter and capabilities the force has spent more than a decade and a half developing,” Nerguizian added.

After Lebanon’s 15-year civil war broke out in 1975, the army split along sectarian lines. It reunited in the early 1990s under the command of Gen. Emile Lahoud, who later became the president.

Since then, it has become one of the most professional militaries in the Middle East. The U.S. has given it more than $2 billion since 2007, hoping to build a bulwark against Hezbollah’s power — though the aid is far below the around $3 billion a year it gives to Israel’s military.

The military is also one of the few state institutions that enjoy respect among the Lebanese public, in contrast to their politicians, so mired in infighting they haven’t been able to form a government since October.

During anti-government demonstrations that swept the country in late 2019, videos of soldiers overcome by emotion as they confronted protesters were widely shared on social media.

Elias Farhat, a retired Lebanese army general who is currently a researcher in military affairs, said he did not believe the collapse scenario is now possible.

“This is not an army’s crisis but a country’s crisis. In the past there were major security problems that affected the army and led to its disintegration," he said, referring to the civil war.

Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, D.C., contributed reporting.

“That is not the case today.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


As Lebanon battles crisis, coastal city Batroun thrives on local tourism

BATROUN, Lebanon (Reuters) - While businesses across Lebanon are fighting to survive a monumental economic meltdown, the coastal city of Batroun is thriving as a tourist destination for Lebanese whose summer plans have been scuppered by the crisis and the pandemic.

Crowds stroll along Batroun's streets and visit its historical sites, others sunbathe on beaches and many drink their nights away despite the pandemic and their country's financial crisis dubbed by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history.

"Lebanese can't go for tourism abroad anymore," 54-year old restaurant owner Maguy al-Mouhawas said.

"They find that this city embraces them and their children, it treats them like its own, and this is why there's a bigger turnout."

Mouhawas notes that more properties are being rented out or purchased and that more businesses are investing in Batroun, in stark contrast to the large exodus from the capital a little over an hour's drive away.

Lebanon's financial crisis has wiped out jobs, propelled more than half of the population into poverty and slashed 90% of the value of the country's local currency.

Beirut is also still recovering from the aftermath of last year's huge port blast that killed hundreds, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital.

Back in Batroun, John Bechara, who works for the municipality as a tourist guide, takes visitors on tours of the city's ancient churches, Phoenician sea wall and main monuments.

"My love for Batroun made me look at every stone, every corner and every person I meet in the streets to ask about the history, and this is how I am getting attached to my city more and more," the 54-year-old Bechara said.

On a random weekend or even on summer weekdays, the city's streets, beaches, restaurants, cafes and pubs are full of life.

"This atmosphere was not created overnight. We knew our city is a touristic city par excellence, what you are seeing now is the result of 22 years of work," said the head of Batroun municipality Marcelino al-Hark.

Small businesses and famous brands are multiplying in Batroun, especially in the hospitality and food and beverage sectors. Lebanon has recently eased its coronavirus restrictions and is recording low COVID-19 daily cases.

Many Batroun residents were pleased with the hubbub, but some raised concerns about the growing crowds.

"We love people and we love gatherings, Batroun's people have always been hospitable and generous, but it is the traffic. there have been many problems because of car parking," said 67-year-old retired chef Elias Louka as he walked through his neighbourhood on his way to go fishing.

But Mouhawas, who described Batroun as the "oxygen" of her life, sees nothing but added value.

"Paradise without people is not worth going to," Mouhawas said, quoting an Arabic proverb.

"Fortunately, in this economic situation, our city is thriving so we don't feel the economic and financial burden like others," she said.

(Reporting by Yara Abi Nader Additional reporting by Imad Creidi Editing by Maha El Dahan and Raissa Kasolowsky)


Climate Change Closes In On Lebanon's Iconic Cedar Trees

A cedar tree that burned in a recent wildfire, in the Mishmish forest, Akkar, Lebanon.

Khaled Taleb steps out of his vehicle high on a mountainside in northern Lebanon, and surveys the charred remains of the cedar forest he fought to save. A black carpet of the trees' burned needles crunches underfoot.

Armed with only gardening tools and cloth masks, Taleb and four friends spent the night of Aug. 23 on this mountainside battling a wildfire that swept up from the valley and engulfed this high-altitude woodland of cedars and juniper trees.

"The fear we felt for ourselves was nothing compared to the fear we had for the trees," recalls Taleb, who played under these boughs as a child, and who has worked for their protection since he was 16. Now 29, he runs an ecotourism and conservation group he founded called Akkar Trail.

Khaled Taleb, 29, a conservationist who is the director and founder of Akkar Trail, and his brother Ali Taleb, 22, a botanist, look out over a valley from the site of a recent wildfire which burned a number of cedar trees, in the Mishmish forest. Left: A scorched juniper tree that was burned in a recent wildfire which also burned a number of cedar trees. Right: Khaled Taleb Sam Tarling for NPR hide caption

Khaled Taleb, 29, a conservationist who is the director and founder of Akkar Trail, and his brother Ali Taleb, 22, a botanist, look out over a valley from the site of a recent wildfire which burned a number of cedar trees, in the Mishmish forest. Left: A scorched juniper tree that was burned in a recent wildfire which also burned a number of cedar trees. Right: Khaled Taleb

The cedar tree is a source of national pride in Lebanon. Its distinctive silhouette of splayed branches graces the national flag. The forests here have furthered empires, providing Phoenicians with timber for their merchant ships, and early Egyptians with wood for elaborately carved sarcophagi.

But now the very survival of these ancient giants is in question. Scientists say rising temperatures and worsening drought conditions brought about by climate change are driving wildfires in this Middle Eastern country to ever higher altitudes, encroaching upon the mountains where the cedars grow.

Changing weather patterns in Lebanon, defined by its long Mediterranean coastline and mountain ranges, are also upsetting the ecology of the cedar forests. Warming temperatures have spawned infestations of the web-spinning sawfly, which has decimated entire tracts of forest.

Climate scientists predict average annual temperatures in the Middle East to increase by as much as 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, compared to the mid-1800s. The changes could mean heatwaves lasting some 200 days per year, with temperatures reaching an unbearable 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees C) by the end of the century. The projections show prolonged droughts, air pollution from dust storms, and rising sea levels. In order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the world must keep average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, climate scientists say.

"Worst fire season"

The fire that Taleb and his friends fought this summer marked the first time on record that wildfires have reached Lebanon's cedar trees.

Starting in the low plains of Wadi Jhannam or the "Valley of Hell," Taleb says the fire burned through almost 100 acres of woodland, damaging some 100 prized cedar and juniper trees. This might seem slight, but it's a significant area in tiny Lebanon, a country many times smaller than every American state, except Delaware and Rhode Island.

Across Lebanon, wildfires have been more frequent and intense. George Mitri, a scientist and director of the land and natural resources program at the Lebanese University of Balamand, says the fires this year burned through an area seven times larger than the annual average. At one point in October, his team counted 150 wildfires in just 48 hours.

Mitri says the fires reached record altitudes too, burning as high as 6,500 feet above sea level. The fires came within just 7.5 miles of Lebanon's densest cedar forest in the Tannourine Nature Reserve. "This was the worst fire season on record," Mitri says. "It's a national disaster."

Cedar trees in the Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve, in Tannourine. Sam Tarling for NPR hide caption


Relief

As in any mountainous region, the physical geography of Lebanon is extremely complex and varied. Landforms, climate, soils, and vegetation undergo some sharp and striking changes within short distances. Four distinct physiographic regions may be distinguished: a narrow coastal plain along the Mediterranean Sea, the Lebanon Mountains (Jabal Lubnān), Al-Biqāʿ (Bekaa) valley, and the Anti-Lebanon and Hermon ranges running parallel to the Lebanese Mountains.

The coastal plain is narrow and discontinuous, almost disappearing in places. It is formed of river-deposited alluvium and marine sediments, which alternate suddenly with rocky beaches and sandy bays, and is generally fertile. In the far north it expands to form the ʿAkkār Plain.

The snowcapped Lebanon Mountains are one of the most prominent features of the country’s landscape. The range, rising steeply from the coast, forms a ridge of limestone and sandstone, cut by narrow and deep gorges. It is approximately 100 miles (160 km) long and varies in width from 6 to 35 miles (10 to 56 km). Its maximum elevation is at Qurnat al- Sawdāʾ (10,131 feet [3,088 metres]) in the north, where the renowned cedars of Lebanon grow in the shadow of the peak. The range then gradually slopes to the south, rising again to a second peak, Jabal Ṣannīn (8,842 feet [2,695 metres]), northeast of Beirut. To the south the range branches westward to form the Shūf Mountains and at its southern reaches gives way to the hills of Galilee, which are lower.

Al-Biqāʿ valley lies between the Lebanon Mountains in the west and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains in the east its fertile soils consist of alluvial deposits from the mountains on either side. The valley, approximately 110 miles (180 km) long and from 6 to 16 miles (10 to 26 km) wide, is part of the great East African Rift System. In the south Al-Biqāʿ becomes hilly and rugged, blending into the foothills of Mount Hermon ( Jabal al-Shaykh) to form the upper Jordan Valley.

The Anti-Lebanon range (Al-Jabal al-Sharqī) starts with a high peak in the north and slopes southward until it is interrupted by Mount Hermon (9,232 feet [2,814 metres]).


Lebanon's civil society holds key to national rehabilitation: ANALYSIS

Our only shot at helping Lebanon rebuild itself is its civil society.

Lebanon’s prime minister and Cabinet resign after protests erupt

It's incredible how Lebanon, such a tiny nation, could have so many big and endemic problems. It's also unfathomable how it has survived this long despite those problems.

Lebanon has seen it all throughout its existence: civil war, terrorism, invasion, occupation, military intervention and political intimidation. You name it. Yet somehow it has managed to keep going and at times even thrive.

Now, that sense of resilience and ingenuity the Lebanese are so famous for seems to have finally eroded. The country has reached a level of political bankruptcy and economic ruin unseen before in its modern history.

The reasons for this are numerous, but none more compelling than the country's flawed power-sharing arrangement and the failure of its ruling elites to enact necessary political and economic reforms.

Lebanon could have fallen, like it did so catastrophically from 1975 to 1990 -- many years ago. But every time it flirted with collapse, somebody came to the rescue. The Americans, the Europeans or the Arabs all stepped in either separately or collectively at various junctures in Lebanese history to avert the worst in Beirut.

This time, however, help may not be on the way. The Gulf Arab states have other priorities and Paris has had it with the Lebanese politicians' empty promises of reform. The Americans share the French's concerns, but they haven't given up on the country just yet.

There's still some U.S. goodwill toward Lebanon. Also, there's much concern over the probability of another failed state in the Middle East from which Russia, Iran and Sunni terrorists could benefit.

The problem is that Washington's Lebanon policy has no legs. In other words, it doesn't have a reformist domestic political constituency with which to work and help address the country's deep challenges.

The U.S. can keep saying that it supports political and economic reform in Lebanon, but the same sectarian elites who have governed the country for decades have made it crystal clear that they're not even remotely interested in change.

The fact that a nuclear-like explosion, caused by a warehouse filled with explosive material, leveled parts of Beirut and killed 220 people on Aug. 4 of last year went unpunished tells you all you need to know about the rotten and immovable nature of Lebanese politics.

More than 15 years ago, Washington's priority in Lebanon was to kick the Syrian army out of the country. And it succeeded mainly because U.S. interests converged with those of a domestic political force that had led a popular uprising against the hegemony of the odious Syrian regime. U.S. officials knew all along that the so-called March 14 coalition was deeply corrupt, but its anti-Syrian stance at the time was what mattered the most.

Now, the existential battle isn't about malign Syrian influence. It's about national rehabilitation. And that same clique that once called for freedom from Syrian diktat cannot be counted on today because it is as corrupt as ever. Most of its members also accommodate Hezbollah to safeguard their political powers and financial interests.

The only constituency that truly wants a new start in Lebanon is the country's civil society. Its members are the ones who are fed up with the sectarian system. They are the real and only agents of change in Lebanon.

The problem is -- and it's no small one -- that Lebanese civil society is weak in part because of disorganization, but also because the deck has been stacked against it for so long. That said, it's not irredeemable. It needs help, and Washington has every interest in providing it.

Skeptics might caution that the United States shouldn't be in the business of embracing Lebanese civil society because by doing so it would forever cripple it. It's the kiss of death syndrome, the argument goes. The Obama administration was particularly careful not to support peaceful Iranian protestors in 2009 when they rose against the mullahs for fear of tainting them. Sensible minds would agree that was a missed opportunity for Washington.

Let's not make that same mistake in Lebanon. The country has always been a contested space. Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has had no qualms about flaunting on national television the generous military and financial assistance his party receives from Iran.

We're not talking about picking sides in a civil war here, like we recklessly did in the early 1980s -- a policy that cost us the lives of hundreds of American diplomats and soldiers in multiple terrorist bombings in Beirut.

We're talking about supporting peaceful, vulnerable and secular civilians who long for dignity, justice, accountability and economic opportunity. Surely we can stand behind those ideals. That's exactly what we did in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, which helped us counter Soviet influence in those regions.

It's foolish to keep hoping for the Lebanese political elites to self-reform and thus self-destruct. That's just not going to happen. Our only shot at helping Lebanon rebuild itself is its civil society.

Student movements and independent civic groups are already making progress and recently have defeated their sectarian opponents in university elections. We can smartly amplify their success by more effectively leveraging our economic assistance to the country.


Lebanon again raises price of bread amid crippling crisis

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s economy ministry on Tuesday raised the price of subsidized bread for the fifth time in a year as the country’s multiple crises worsen with no resolution in sight.

The ministry said the reason behind the latest increase — an 18% hike from the last raise in February — was the central bank's ending of sugar subsidies, which in turn adds to the cost of bread production.

Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history — one that the World Bank has said is likely to rank as one of the worst the world has seen in the past 150 years. The currency has lost 90% of its value, breaking a record low earlier this month of 15,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market. The official exchange rate remains 1,507 pounds to the dollar.

The World Bank said in a report this month that Lebanon’s gross domestic product is projected to contract 9.5% in 2021, after shrinking by 20.3% in 2020 and 6.7% the year before.

The central bank has been cutting back on financing imports at subsidized dollars, as foreign currency reserves have dropped dangerously low, from $30 billion at the start of the crisis in late 2019, to nearly $15 billion currently. That has prompted merchants to either raise prices or stop imports.

Most Lebanese have seen their purchase power drop and their savings evaporate, and more than half the tiny country's population now lives below the poverty line.

The government in June last year raised the price of flatbread, a staple in Lebanon, by more than 30% — for the first time in a decade. It has since raised the price three times before Tuesday.

The Ministry of Economy says 910 grams (2 pounds) of bread will be sold for 3,250 pounds. It used to be sold for 2,750 pounds before the latest increase.

Lebanon is going through severe shortages in gasoline, medicines — both still subsidized by the state — and other vital products. Electricity cuts last for much of the day and people wait in line for hours to fill up their cars. Shootings and fistfights have broken out at gas stations, leaving several people injured.

One of the reasons behind the gasoline shortage is smuggling to neighboring Syria, which struggles with its own gasoline shortage but where the price is nearly five times that in Lebanon.

A fuel distributors representative, Fadi Abu Shakra, said 140 gas station owners refused to receive gasoline on Tuesday because of the problems they are facing, including threats, blackmail and beatings.

“They they cannot protect themselves,” he said, and called on security forces to protect gas stations, according to state-run National News Agency.