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The Two-Year War: February 1975– December 1976

In the years preceding the outbreak of the war, regular bouts of violence had occurred across Lebanon attesting to a gradual weakening of the state structure and deepening divisions within the political spectrum. In North Lebanon and in the Beqaa, armed gangs were committing robberies and murders; others were making illicit impositions on local factories and businesses. In Beirut and South Lebanon, growing tension between the Lebanese Army, the Lebanese Security Forces, and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters turned from small-scale clashes to higher-intensity confrontations, most notably in May 1973.

Thus it became increasingly difficult to uphold the terms of the 1969 Cairo Accord. Indeed, the number of Palestinian fighters had grown significantly since 1967 to become several thousand in the early 1970s, when Lebanon became the main center for the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Clashes erupted occasionally between the Christian Kataeb militia and the PLO in the area around Tel al-Zaatar, a Palestinian refugee camp in the East Beirut suburb of Dekwaneh. Israeli raids on South Lebanon in retaliation for Palestinian operations conducted from Lebanon or from within Israel were resulting in civilian deaths and property destruction, and pushing Lebanese civilians from the region to migrate north and toward Beirut. Throughout 1974, Israel was conducting land or air raids on villages and towns in SouthLebanon on a weekly basis.

On the eve of the war, Lebanon was polarized into two radicalized groups, divided over ideological, socioeconomic, and political issues and their views regarding the role of the Palestinian armed struggle in Lebanon. Most radical Christian groups viewed the Palestinian armed presence in various areas of the country and armed actions taken from Lebanese territories as impediments to Lebanese sovereignty. Radical Muslims and Christians affiliated to leftist and other radical groups supported and sometimes participated in the Palestinian military actions against Israel, adopting the Palestinian view that the struggle for the liberation of Palestine was to take place from Lebanon. The Lebanese in this group further viewed the Lebanese Army and other state institutions as a Christian dominant force that was hindering the Palestinian armed struggle, which the Palestinian armed force could balance out in their favor.

In early 1975 the country’s political and social structure was weakened by increased polarization of the street, mounting social discontent with economic issues, the loss of the exclusive use of violence with a proliferation of light weapons and accompanying small-scale clashes and crime, and differing perceptions of national institutions, mainly the army.

The Two-Year War was marked by a series of cross-sectarian clashes, assassinations, enforced disappearances, and mostly massacres and counter-massacres. The most notable events were Black Saturday, the siege of Christian towns and Palestinian camps, and forced evictions. This period ended when Syrian troops entered Lebanon and a ceasefire six months later.