Lebanese President-Elect Slain

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Lebanese President-Elect Slain

"Phalange Delivers 3 Gemayel Assassins to Lebanese Government"

News article

By: Mona Ziade

Date: April 26, 1983

Source: The Associated Press

About the Author: Mona Zaide was a journalist for United Press International before going to work at the Associated Press. She then joined the Daily Star, an English language newspaper in Lebanon where she worked as both national and managing editor. Zaide is the Communications Officer for the World Bank.


The assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel on September 14, 1982 became the spark that ignited two days of bloodshed in Sabra and Shatila, Palestinian refugee camps located in southern Lebanon. The assassination and subsequent violence followed years of civil war in Lebanon between political factions in competing alliances with neighboring states, namely Syria and Israel.

Once a bastion for ethnic cooperation, Lebanon's government was structured to reflect its population as identified in a 1932 census. The National Pact provided for representation of each of the parties in the country. By custom, the president would be a Maronite (Christian), the Prime Minister would be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies would be a Shia Muslim. By mid–1975, the government no longer accurately represented the population, creating political and cultural tensions that set the stage for civil war as sectarian militias and external regimes clamored for power.

The first events of the civil war occurred in 1975 with an assassination attempt on Bashir Gemayel's father, Pierre Gemayel. Pierre Gemayel had been the founder of the Phalange party, a Maronite paramilitary youth organization. The party gained support and power through the 1960's with its hope for a Lebanon distinctive from its Arab and Muslim neighbors.

Phalangists believed Palestinians were the would-be assassins of Pierre Gemayel and retaliated by killing twenty-six Palestinian passengers riding a bus across a Maronite Christian neighborhood. These were Palestinian refugees who had resided in the southern outskirts of west Beirut since the first Arab-Israeli War in 1949. Syria initially entered the civil war on the side of the Christians. By 1976, Syria had brokered a cease-fire at the Riyadh Conference that included a peace-keeping force called the Arab Deterrence Force (ADF) to quell unrest in Lebanon. By 1980 this force, which initially included members from several neighboring Arab nations, had been whittled down to include only Syrian forces. Internal struggles within Syria caused relaxed control in Lebanon. However, Phalangists exerted their power and the ADF took action against the party.

During this time, Bashir Gemayel began to gain power within the Phalange party. In 1970, prior to his rise as a political leader, Bashir was kidnapped by Palestinian militias. Although he was released, historians claim the experience dimmed his tolerance for Palestinians. Bashir obtained degrees in political science and law before being appointed in 1971 as inspector of the Kataeb (Lebanese for Phalange) Regular Forces, a paramilitary wing of the Phalange party. He served in several other militia leadership positions in the civil war until his election to president in 1982. During this time, Bashir's alliance with Israel provided the Lebanese Front with weapons, ammunition, supplies and training from Israeli forces. This angered many Muslim Arabs, who in turn boycotted the presidential election won by Bashir.

In response to the ADF action against the Phalangists, under the banner of striking Palestine Liberation Forces (PLO) using Lebanon as a base for action against it, and in retaliation for an assassination attempt on an Israeli ambassador in London, Israel invaded Lebanon in June of 1982 with 60,000 troops. Two months later, a U.S. led cease-fire called for international monitors to facilitate the withdrawal of PLO members from Lebanon, Israeli agreement not to advance further into Lebanon and to guarantee the safety of Palestinian refugees. With international observers watching, the PLO withdrew by September 1, 1982. The next day, and in violation of the agreement, Israel deployed forces around the refugee camps. The international forces intent on PLO compliance left the nation without forcing Israel to comply. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin claimed PLO forces remained in Lebanon and pressured his ally Bashir Gemayel to keep an Israeli military presence. Bashir refused. On September 14, 1982, Bashir was assassinated.


President Amin Gemayel's Phalange Party turned over the alleged killer of his brother Bashir to Amin's government Tuesday after holding him for seven months.

The right-wing Christian party, which is headed by the Gemayel brothers' father, Pierre Gemayel, also turned over two other men it said confessed to killing Bashir's baby daughter in 1980 and three others accused of planting bombs in East Beirut, the capital's Christian sector.

The Phalange Party had said earlier it would keep them in custody until the government was once again in control after eight years of civil war, Syrian occupation, and the Israeli invasion last summer.

Party officials said the six men were Habib Shartouni, a 25-year-old leftist Christian accused of killing Gemayel; Joseph Kazazian and Nazih Shaya, accused of detonating the bomb that killed 18-month-old Maya Gemayel as she was being driven home in her father's limousine, and Faysal Hashem, Farouk Hashem and Khoren Vartanian, the other three alleged bombers.

They were transferred to government custody at the Phalangist-controlled port city of Jounieh, 10 miles north of Beirut.

The Phalange radio stationVoice of Lebanon, reported all six said they had learned their lesson and would not commit atrocities again. But Shartouni said Gemayel's killing "was within the Lebanese war, although the problem cannot be solved by killing one person," the broadcast said.

Gemayel, Lebanon's president-elect and commander of the Christian Lebanese Forces militia dominated by the Phalangists, was killed along with 22 other members of the party on Sept. 14, nine days before his inauguration. He was speaking at a party headquarters in a house reportedly owned by Shartouni's grandfather when a bomb went off in a room above him.

Shartouni was arrested several days later. The Phalange radio said he was a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party which fought on the leftist side in the Lebanese civil war and advocated Syrian annexation of Lebanon. It said the party decided on Gemayel's assassination and a senior party official talked Shartouni into planting the explosives.

The party radio also claimed Shartouni had formerly been involved with the intelligence organizations of the Syrian government and the Palestine Liberation Organization and with "international terrorist groups."

Shortly after his arrest, Beirut newspapers reported Shartouni told interrogators he did the killing on behalf of another man who was in contact with "foreign quarters."

The report said he did not identify the other man or the foreign quarters. But the Washington Post reported from Beirut in January that Phalange officials said Syrian intelligence was behind the assassination, and the chief plotter was Nabil Felaghi, alias Nabil Alam, another member of the pro-Syrian party who had ties to the Syrian and PLO intelligence services.

The Post said Felaghi was believed living in Syria.


Israel blamed the Palestinians for the assassination of Bashir Gemayel. Phalange militia members sought retribution. On September 16, 1982, Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the Israeli army to seal off the refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila and to provide logistical support for Phalangists to seek out PLO fighters, who Israel claimed remained in the camps. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, over 2,750 people were killed in the camps within two days, including women and children. By December 16, 1982, the United Nations had declared the event an act of genocide.

Due in part to media attention, Israelis demanded an explanation as to the extent of Israeli involvement. Israel released the Kahan Commission, which absolved Israelis of guilt and blamed Phalangists for the massacre. Amin Gemayel, Bashir's brother, became president of Lebanon and served a six-year term until 1988.


Web sites

Campagna, Joel. "The Usual Suspects." World Press Review. 49 (4). <http://www.worldpress.org/Mideast/460.cfm> (accessed July 3, 2005).

General Assembly, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. "The Situation in the Middle East." <http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/faabb796990cf95a852560d9005240cf?OpenDocument> (accessed July 6, 2005).

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