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Siege of Beirut

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Siege of Beirut
Part of the 1982 Lebanon War
Date 14 June - 21 August 1982
Location Beirut, Lebanon
Result Israeli victory; PLO forces evacuated after peace settlement.
All territorial gains are returned immediately, except for a ten-mile wide security zone.
Flag of Israel Israel Defense Forces Palestinian territories Palestine Liberation Organization
Ariel Sharon Yasir Arafat
30,000 15,000
Casualties and losses
368 soldiers killed,
2,383 wounded
1,000 PLO fighters killed
6,000 captured.
10,000-12,000 civilian casualties

The Siege of Beirut took place in the summer of 1982, as part of the 1982 Lebanon War, which resulted from the breakdown of the cease-fire effected by the United Nations. It ended with the PLO being forced out of Lebanon, and Israel immediately giving back nearly all the territory taken in the siege, holding onto only a "security zone," a ten-mile wide strip of land along the Israeli-Lebanese border, which was later returned to Lebanon in 2000.

Historical Setting

The PLO moved its primary base of operations to Beirut in the late 1960s, after an attempt on their part to overthrow the government of Jordan, and their subsequent expulsion. The presence of Palestinian forces was one of the main reasons that led to a Christian-Muslim conflict in Lebanon in 1975–1976 which ended with the occupation of Lebanon by peace-keeping forces from several Arab countries, including Syria. Over the next few years, the Syrians and the PLO gained power in Lebanon, surpassing the ability of the official Lebanese government to curtail or control their actions. Throughout this time, artillery and rocket attacks were launched against Israel. In 1978, and again in 1981 and early 1982, the United Nations sponsored a cease-fire, and Israeli troops, sent into Lebanon to curtail these attacks, were withdrawn. In 1982 Israel re-invaded Lebanon following the attempted assassination of its ambassador in London, despite being aware that the attack had been carried out by the Abu Nidal faction, which was at war with Arafat's PLO. The architect of the war, Ariel Sharon (then Defence Minister), presented it to the Israeli government as a limited incursion into Southern Lebanon but took his troops to Beirut. The invasion was code-named "Operation Pines" or "Peace for Galilee", and was intended to weaken or evict the PLO and impose Bashir Gemayel, head of the Christian Phalange party, as President of Lebanon in order to get Lebanon to sign a peace treaty with Israel and bring the country into Israel's sphere of influence. This plan failed when Gemayel was assassinated not long after being elected President by the Lebanese parliament under Israeli pressure. The Israeli forces invaded in a three-pronged attack. One group moved along the coastal road to Beirut, another aimed at cutting the main Beirut-Damascus road, and the third moved up along the Lebanon-Syria border, hoping to block Syrian reinforcements or interference. By the 11th of June, Israel had gained air superiority after shooting down a number of Syrian aircraft; Syria called for a cease-fire, and the majority of PLO guerrillas fled Tyre, Sidon, and other areas for Beirut.

The Siege

Israel hoped to complete the siege as quickly as possible; their goal all along in invading Lebanon was for a quick and decisive victory. In addition, the United States, through their representative Philip Habib, was pushing for peace negotiations; the longer the siege took, the greater Arafat's bargaining power would be. For seven weeks, Israel attacked the city by sea, air, and land, cutting off food & water supplies, disconnecting the electricity, and securing the airport and some southern suburbs, but for the most part coming no closer to their goals. As with most sieges, the population of the city, thousands of civilians, suffered alongside the PLO guerrillas. Israel was roundly accused of indiscriminately shelling the city in addition to the other measures taken to weaken the PLO. The Israelis secured several key locations in other parts of Lebanon, but did not manage to take the city before a peace agreement was finally implemented. Although Syria had agreed on 7 August, Israel, Lebanon, and the PLO finally agreed, with US mediation, on the 18th. On 21 August, 350 French paratroopers arrived in Beirut, followed by 800 US Marines and Italian Bersaglieri plus additional international peacekeepers (for a total force of 2,130) to supervise the removal of the PLO, first by ship and then overland, to Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria.


In the end, Israel succeeded in ending the rocket attacks for a very short period, and routing the PLO from Lebanon, but failed to weaken the PLO overall. The siege also saw the insubordination and subsequent dismissal of the 211th Armor Brigade commander, Eli Geva, who refused to lead his forces into the city, arguing this would result in "the excessive killings of civilians."

The number of civilian casualties is disputed, and is probably between 10,000 and 12,000. The maths is as follows: An Nahar, a Lebanese paper published in Beirut, estimated that the total military personnel and civilians dead from the Lebanon campaign (up to and including the siege) was 17,825. Subtract 2,000 Syrian dead, 1,400 PLO and 1,000-3,000 civilians killed in the southern campaign, 1,000 PLO killed in the siege, and the 368 IDF killed. This number excludes the 750-3,000 Palestinian refugees killed in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which occurred when Phalangist forces entered into the camps.

Following the siege of Beirut, Arafat fled to Greece, and then to Tunis, establishing a new headquarters there. PLO fedayeen continued to operate out of Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Iraq, and the Sudan, as well as within Israeli-controlled territory.

International reaction

The siege of Beirut by Israeli military forces was highly controversial and was condemned even by Israel's traditional close ally, the United States, warning Israel that weaponry provided by the United States was only to be used for defensive purposes.[1] The U.S. government at one point even considered threatening sanctions against Israel in order to stop Israel from launching an assault on West Beirut in August 1982.[1]


  • An Nahar, September 1, 1982.
  • Davis, M. Thomas. 40 km into Lebanon. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press (1987), pp. 96-101.
  • Davis, Paul K. Besieged: 100 Great Sieges from Jericho to Sarajevo. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2000).
  • Gabriel, Richard. Operation Peace for Galilee: The Israel-PLO War in Lebanon. New York: Hill and Wang (1984).
  • Rabinovich, Itmar. The War for Lebanon 1970-1985. Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1985).

See also

External links

cs:Obléhání Bejrútu pt:Cerco de Beirute ru:Осада Бейрута sr:Опсада Бејрута

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