Chapter 20:

Samir Geagea, the conquering hero.

Hobeika found a release for his political loss and frustration by filling his pockets and his bed in his new ghetto, out of the Christian fiefdom. Samir Geagea, the conquering hero, the victor, set out to reorganize the Lebanese Forces according to his own criterion. A “purge” was set rolling mercilessly. His objective since then was to form a regular army, capable of promoting and boosting his new Christian ideology, without jibbing. He picked new loyal and staunch recruits, won over to his cause, and to his person. He put aside men like Maroun Mashaalani, and George Azzi who brewed their revenge. Once again, the Christians were at each other’s throats!

On August 10, 1986, seven months after Hobeika’s defeat, a short lived insurrection movement took place. Besides the two mutineers, Fuad Abou Nader, who was also wronged, was in on it, but undercover. He was never directly involved. The mutiny started with the siege of Geagea’s Military Council, and Adonis Barracks in the Kessrouan where two Lebanese Forces men were killed, one of whom was Khattar Abou Jaoudeh. As usual Geagea was absent from Beirut. Abou Nader backed out, and let them down in the middle of the mess, realizing it could not lead anywhere. Machaalani and Azzi had to retract. The men were arrested and charged with having links with Hobeika. Geagea called them “boorish hoodlums” who sowed discord and spread terror. Abou Nader was neutralized, and Machaalani paid off to disappear. The whole thing was hushed.

During the night following the mutiny, an emergency meeting was held at the Kataeb Party headquarters between Geagea, Saadeh, Pakraduni, Succar, Azzi and Abou Nader. Right after the meeting, as Abou Nader was heading home, he was caught in an ambush set up by Geagea. Geagea once again struck a victory. The deadly message was also addressed to Amin Gemayel and the Kataeb Party. It was now clear that the “Doctor’s” goal was to gain control of the Kataeb Party and destroy Hobeika in Zahleh.

The brutal game continued. Hobeika became desperate as Geagea was building up his empire. He had to thwart his plans and move in. He had to reconquer Ashrafieh, Capital of the Christian fiefdom, and where he still counted lots of supporters, specially in Hay el Syrian and Karm el Zeitoun, and the Southern Matn. The January 15, 1986, slap was neither forgotten nor forgiven.

In Ashrafieh, the core of the Christian land the inhabitants lived in fear, all those reluctant to Geagea’s command and measures taken against their friends and family members including arrests, imprisonment and assassinations. They would come in handy when the time came to attack Geagea’s top level.

Hobeika was incited by the Syrians and thrust by his own greed for power. He decided to reconquer Ashrafieh in order to realize a military victory and a political “comeback”. He kept saying that he will never accept to be a new Hanash, ousted by Bashir Gemayel from Eastern regions and outlawed there. The “breakthrough” of September 26, 1986, barely nine months after his capitulation, was decided.

Michel Zouein and five of his top military experts studied the ground. They plotted for a whole month, examining maps of Ashrafieh and the Southern Matn. They opened channels with Walid Jumblat’s PSP command to secure a passageway through Souk Al Gharb down to Bdedoun where they counted numerous allies. The night preceding the “infiltration” seven men, in two cars, drove down to Bdadoun where a “scout” picked them up and escorted them to Al Kamal building in Gemeyzeh, continuing on Al Assouak. It was occupied by 23 of Geagea’s officers on a training session. They were taken by surprise, disarmed, driven to the wall and constrained to let Hobeika’s men through. This action open the sealed of the Sodeco crossing, to enable Hobeika’s units to move in from the West Beirut Ra’s el Nabeh sector.

They were preceded, 24 hours earlier, by trucks filled with some 300 boys, haphazardly picked up. Hardly half of them were in fighting condition, the rest were gap fillers. Anyone standing on his two legs was considered fit. Hobeika was short of well trained military men and was determined to carry out his plan.

The boys were told they were going on a training session, not to confront death, and were transported to the Camp in Upper Zahleh. It was just a short halt! Around 3:00 a.m., they were packed into the trucks and taken down to West Beirut through the Al Karameh roadway. They arrived two hours after the scheduled time of the assault, 7:00 a.m. After palavers, the decision was made to continue on with it and send the “boys” to the arena.

In the military Operations Room in Elie Hobeika’s West Beirut office, Hobeika, Assaad Shaftari, Ghassan Moubayad, and Ghazi Kanaan led the operation contrary to alleged media reports. I was there every minute, watching, listening and wondering. A media report invalidated who was leading the operation. It reported that Hesbolla on our side. In fact, on going through the area they controlled, Hobeika’s men clashed with the Hesbollahi and suffered three dead. They later claimed we had not taken out a crossing permit.

The second obstacle removed, the “shabab” advanced. The Sodeco area was deserted, no checkpoints, no roadblocks, not a soul in sight. The boys swept in and within a few hours, they occupied key positions including the new building of the Kataeb Party Radio Voice of Lebanon on the Hotel Dieu driveway. It was not yet functional. At 10:30 a.m, Lebanese Army planes flew over Ashrafieh as fighting between Hobeika and Geagea’s men went on and off. Contrary to all military protocols, the two Christian “heroes” were out of reach. One was in West Beirut, under Syrian protection, the other in Junieh shielded by his Bsharreh loyalists. The fighting, blood and death were the boys’ affair to handle alone.

By noon, we knew that the Lebanese Army was siding up with Geagea and pounding us despite a tacit agreement with top ranking army officers not to intervene. We learned that it was the President of the Republic Amin Gemayel who was conducting the operation and ordered the shelling. The boys felt that it was getting too big for them and began retracting, but they were caught like rats, in a trap. The army had deployed Commando Units all over Ashrafieh which they sealed off and set up the Sodeco checkpoint.

Meanwhile in West Beirut, Ghazi Kanaan pressed Hobeika to hold out for a couple of hours more to enable him to send a Syrian Army battalion to the rescue. Inside, it was a stampede. Everyone for himself. Some were trapped in buildings they had taken and were either killed or caught. Less than half of our men returned and with them Charles Hobeika, Hobeika’s one and only concern as for the rest, they were nothing but canon fodder’s. He was not concerned for the fate of one of his most and competent lieutenants, since Bashir Gemayel’s days, Michel Zouein who had burnt to death in his jeep when a shell hit it in the vicinity of Rizk Hospital. Zouein had been rejected and humiliated by Hobeika until the day he needed his military experience for the Ashrafieh breakthrough. Loyal as he was, he accepted. Zouein died for Hobeika, and Hobeika ignored him.

Hobeika has never cared about such victims as Elie Akl, an honest and brave man whose photograph, dead, was published in Geagea’s weekly “Al Massira” claiming he was a Syrian. Hobeika did not care when Charles Korban and Loubnan Karam were dragged from the Hotel Dieu Hospital room where, badly wounded, they had been admitted because of Hobeika’s egoistic and fiendish mind. Their corpses were thrown in Fidar, Geagea’s stronghold.

Geagea for his part, lost self-control, and began sending killing squads to capture and shoot down Hobeika’s partisans who had chosen to retire from the field. Michel and Tony Issraeli, and Pierre Haddad, who had been cooped up alone in Radio Voice of Lebanon from early morning till 8:00 p.m, were later captured, and beaten up. Dozen others he considered confirmed traitors were liquidated.

The criminal nature of Geagea and Hobeika was unparalleled Joseph El Hajj, known as Abou Halka, the Hero of Zahleh in 1982, was captured and thrown in a prison created by Hobeika, when he was Chief of Intelligence and Security, with a wide range of the most sophisticated tortures. Geagea considered Abou Halka a competent top officer and wanted him on his side to fill him in on Hobeika’s plans. Joseph wanted neither of them. He was banned from his hometown. He was so utterly disgusted and beaten that he endured hell without giving in. Eight months later he was rushed to a hospital half dead. After two months of medical treatment he fled and lived in hiding until he was able to leave the Lebanese territory.

A Lebanese Forces officer, formerly attached to Geagea, Joseph Abou Nader, commander of the South Matn region deserted and fled to West Beirut with his group to join us. We all returned to Zahleh beaten and battered. Hobeika went to Damascus and hardly ever came to Zahleh. We kept a record of the captured, the lost, and the killed and tried in vain to quell the angry families clamoring for their sons and report to Hobeika, imperturbable and pitiless.

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