Chapter 8:

The massacres of Sabra and Chatilla, I witnessed the horor.


On the morning of Wednesday, September 15, 1982, the Lebanese forces met at the Gemayel house in Bickfaya. The house was crammed with mourners, and the attendees decided to run Amin, Bashir’s brother, for the president. While all of Lebanon’s religious, political, military and civilian leaders and Minister Sharon and the Head of the Mossad passed through the room where condolences were extended, an invasion of West Beirut was being planned. It went off 12 hours later.

In the afternoon of Wednesday September 15, 1982, Bashir’s military and Intelligence lieutenants met with the Israeli chief of Staff Lieutenant General Rafael Eitan, and Major General Amir Drori, in charge of the Lebanese operation.

I was later told by Hobeika that there were about 2,000 PLO “terrorists” still hiding in the Sabra and Chatilla camps. Hobeika advised me that he was in charge of the organization of an operation to clear them out. He also disclosed that the Israeli forces had taken up positions in West Beirut and expected us to supervise the evacuation of the Palestinians from the camp. We were to sort out the armed terrorists and hand them over to the Israeli troops at the Cite Sportive, Al Madina Al Ryadieh, cleaned up and fixed to serve as a rally point. Meanwhile, the whole country stood breathless and at a standstill, half of it drowned in deep despair, and the other half paralyzed with fear. So ominous was the tragedy.

Hobeika had 24 hours to prepare his elite key force composed of 200 men. The men were allotted in several units respectively under the command of Joseph Asmar, Michel Zouein, G. Melco, and Maroun Mashaalani. General Shar¿on besieged the camps and the Cite Sportive.

By noon on Thursday, September 16, 1982, the “Shababs” started advancing through the Beirut Airport Road. By 4:30 p.m., the Lebanese Forces had crossed the Israeli lines surrounding the camps. Sharon had given strict orders to Hobeika to guard against any desperate move, should his men run amuck. They were to behave like a real dignified, regular army not like “chocolate soldiers” and coordinate with the Israeli command. Their mission was to exert pressure an the Palestinians to drive them all out of the camp, and pick out the PLO agents left behind after the evacuation of the Palestinians in August, 1982. They were rallied at the Cite Sportive and held prisoners. After inspection the civilians would be sent back to their homes. However, Hobeika gave his own instructions to his men: “Total extermination ... camps wiped out.”

It was Maroun Mashaalani’s men, undaunted by their regular and immoderate use of heroine and cocaine who perpetrated the most ghastly slaughters in the camp bordering Ghaza Hospital at the entrance of Sabra. That is where foreign nurses and doctors were shot down in cold blood. The minute General Ariel Sharon had been informed that something odd and unwanted was going on, he summoned his commanding officers and Hobeika. At 7:30 p.m. on September 16, 1982, Hobeika and I arrived at General Ariel Sharon’s Headquarters. We climbed up to the terrace of the tall building next to the Kuweity Embassy. From there we could plunge right into the camp and have an overhead view. Besides the Israeli officers, Assaad Shaftari, Michel Zouein, Elie Hobeika “H.K.” and myself were poised and ready.

The Israeli officers were jealous and filled with rage, blaming Hobeika for actually ordering the massacre of Palestinian civilians. Hobeika coldly retorted that it was because of the darkness he could not tell who they were. General Sharon, being too fat to climb up the flight of stairs, waited on the second floor to see Hobeika and have it out with him personally. The minute he saw him he roared out: “You were not supposed to do this. I didn’t ask you to commit massacres. If I wanted, I would have done so with my tanks. You’ll pay dearly for this blunder!” Hobeika replied that he would handle it with his men. Hobeika and I went back on the terrace. Hobeika got a walkie talkie message from a guy called “Paul” saying, “There are women and children, what should we do?” Hobeika answered, “It’s your lookout and don’t call me back again, you shit.”

Hobeika, Zouein, Shaftari and I ran back down to the second story where an Israeli officer drew a map of the site with a piece of chalk on the floor, pointing to where the massacres were taking place. That is when we had confirmation that it was Maroun Machaalani’s unit which was involved at the entrance of Sabra Camp.

Hobeika went back to report to General Sharon his account of events. General Sharon ordered his men to fire flares from that moment on until 4:00 a.m. to avoid a further blunder. It was too late. The harm was done. All the victims were civilians killed with grenades, hatchets, assault rifles, knives. Some of the corpses were even boobie-trapped.

At around 6:00 a.m., the Lebanese Forces, arrived to inspect the butchery. Fadi Frem, Fuad Abou Nader, Steve Nakkour, Elie Hobeika and I inspected the premises. Hobeika instructed Nakkour, who was in charge of Logistics, to send tractors to clean up the camps and leave no traces of the massacres, wiping out incriminating evidence. The Israeli officers prevented the Lebanese Forces from getting into the camps with their chiefs. At 9:00 a.m., artillery fighting broke out between Maroun Mashaalani’s men and gunmen from Moslem shia Mekdad family members. The Mekdad families came to inquire about their relatives who were among the camp inhabitants. A Lebanese army officer ordered Mashaalani to get off to stop the skirmish. He complied. By now, news accounts of the massacres had leaked out. The reports became amplified, confused, and mixed-up. Some witnesses claimed that it was actually Major Saad Haddad’s men who had perpetrated the slaughter because of the South Lebanon accent. Not one single man from Saad Haddad’s Free Lebanon Army took part in the operation. The Christian militia was unchained and blinded by rage after the assassination of their Chief, President and martyr.

Once again, the mastermind, Hobeika had toyed with the lives of young patriots, committing them to carry out reprehensible actions which could serve only Syria’s interests! It was the Syrians not the PLO who had never accepted Bashir’s election. It was later discovered and proven that Bashir’s actual assassin, Habib Tanios Shartuni, was a secret member of the pro-Syrian, anti-Kataeb Party, Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SNSP). The SNSP was represented by Assaad Hardane via Nabil Al Allam Chief of Intelligence and Security of the SNSP. Syrian Army Intelligence “conducted” by Ali Douba assisted Shartuni in providing and stashing the bomb. How could Hobeika claim that he had received orders to massacre the Palestinians from the Israelis? I did not know where his two ultra secret meetings with Abdul Halim Khaddam during the first half of 1982 fit in.

I was Hobeika’s field man always present on the premises with my chief wherever he went. I can state under oath, that General Sharon would never have lit up the area the way he did had he planned for any butchery. He would not have cleaned up the Cite Sportive to house all the Palestinians pending their return to their homes after verification. He would not have placed his tanks and armored cars all around the camps to capture the remaining armed Palestinian agents. One thing was certain, the Syrians had their men within the ranks of Lebanese Forces leaders.

Reflecting back on the events of my life, all the facts led me to believe that Hobeika was the man, who in 1982, provoked the Sabra and Chatilla massacres. This is my own assumption of what was behind it because there are no real facts to support my claim. After killing Bashir Gemayel, in secret coordination with the SNSP and Syria, I also suspected Hobeika was instrumental in the fall of the Likoud Government. Prime Minister Begin and General Sharon resigned, allowing the Labor Party in Israel to come to power. This rise reversed the process and destroyed everything the Likoud Government had worked to establish with the Lebanese Christians.

Bashir’s death and the massacres were pivotal in the fall of the Likoud Government. It is alleged that Hobeika contributed to the destruction of the Likoud Government plan for Israel and Lebanon because of his participation in the events. While Syria was working for a new consensus with the United States, Hobeika became a pro-Syrian and a Hafez Assad hero. Hafez Assad personally placed a protective umbrella over Hobeika’s head to avert any assassination attempts on Hobeika’s life following the massacres of the Sabra and Chatilla camps.

The assassination of Bashir and the attacks on Sabra and Chatilla also led to the fall of power for General Sharon and Prime Minister Begin. Hobeika’s actions changed the course of events. Israel lost power and Syria gained it. It was the same mechanism that destroyed the courageous Israeli Government’s plan to save Lebanon and restore peace through a solid and strong Christian state. Following Bashir’s death and the failed Likoud/Israeli plan, the United States then entered the Middle-East conflict with a new consensus and perspective different from the original Israeli perspective. The Labor Party took control of the Israel government and compromised the Lebanese Christians with Syria. Rabin stated many times, he would not mind for Syria to stay in Lebanon should Syria sign the peace treaty with Israel. When Netanyahu took office, the whole middle eastern peace plan changed.

Five years after Hafez Assad kidnapped the American and western hostages through the Hizballah in Beirut, and released them later in Damascus. He did so to gain the blessings of the United States political power. The United States attempted to a deal with the Labor Party, headed by Rabin in Israel, Assad released 5,000 Syrians Jews from Damascus and authorized them to leave Syria and travel to the United States. The United States was blessing a naive peace between Rabin’s Israel and Syria. The Labor Party leaders believed this naive peace with Syria. Rabin backed by United States support sought a peaceful resolution to the Middle-East conflicts. What Hafez Assad and Syria wanted was the return of the Golan and Lebanon and to be in a position of strength in the balance of power in the Middle East.

Assad was loosing time. The United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, traveled numerous times to the bargaining table to resolve the terms of the agreement, but was unsuccessful in his diplomatic attempts. He failed because Syria never believed in Israel. Assad was counting on a change that might occur with the New World Order, perhaps a new revolution with Russia that would topple the pro-United States regime and establish the Old Soviet Union, thus returning to the Cold War. Assad could then take a power position in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This never happened. The Labor Party failed to understand the ideology that prevailed in Damascus, a denial of Israel to “exist” as a Nation in the Middle-East. Therefore, the only peace that could dominate in the region was the peace through strength. Hobeika succeeded in playing Syria’s political game and Syria was fooling the United States of signing a peace treaty with Israel. The political perception of President Reagan for the Middle East was the best. Peace through strength. What Syria really wanted to do was waste time and swallow Lebanon for its own. By doing so, Syria gained economic and political strength in the region.

On October 2, 1982, 17 days after the assassination of President Bashir Gemayel, the Kataeb Party Radio Voice of Lebanon announced that the man who perpetrated the outrage, the assassin, Habib Tanios Shartuni, age 26, was captured. Strange coincidence indeed, Shartuni, his sister and grandparents occupied the top floor of the small three-story building which accommodated the Kataeb Party’s Ashrafieh headquarters. A friend of mine, then in West Beirut, overheard two SNSP party leaders commenting that one of the greatest assets Hobeika gave to the Syrians was the Bashir story. One can only infer that Hobeika was behind Bashir’s assassination.

Speculation of Hobeika’s participation in Bashir’s assassination was wide spread. Hobeika had been Syria’s man inside the Lebanese Forces. Hobeika had travel numerous times with Bashir. Hobeika made many contacts there, but it was speculated that he was secretly working for the Syrian interests. The last trip Bashir made to discuss the treaty, Bashir got into a verbal conflict with Prime Minister Begin. What followed was the Syrian leader’s plan to assassinate Bashir with the help of the SNSP. After the success of the operation, the leaders then devised a cover for the operation. It is reported that the Syrian Moukhabarat began circulating news that the Israelis had killed Bashir because he had gotten into a conflict with the Prime Minister Begin during their last visit in Naharia. The plan was to remove suspicion from the Syrians and color the Israelis with the crime.

Many in Lebanon do not understand why Israel would kill a man they had devoted and invested so much time and energy into gaining peace for their country. The whole Israeli project was built on Bashir. When Syria succeeded in eliminating Bashir, the whole Israel plan for Lebanon was lost. There was no leader to fill Bashir’s place. Hobeika took advantage of the situation by averting the attention from the Bashir assassination to the massacres at Sabra and Chatilla. Everyone forgot the crime against Bashir and focused their attention on the camp massacres. It was well planned and successfully carried out. Following these events, the Likoud Government collapsed, Prime Minister Begin and General Sharon resigned. Alexander Haig, now the United States Secretary of State, was the man who gave his blessing to the “Peace Accord”, who went home without any success. Everything in Israel collapsed and Syria was getting out of the game victorious following Bashir’s death.

If Bashir had continued forward with his plans in Israel, Lebanon would have been the second State in the Middle East to sign the peace treaty with Israel after Egypt. This move would have ensured a friendly government to Israel in Lebanon. The Lebanese Forces were considered the Israeli mechanism in Lebanon, with the tripartite agreement and the Intifadas, Hobeika sliced the Lebanese Forces into two pieces and took the half of it to the Syrian side when he went to Zahleh. He converted them working for the Moukhabarat Sourieh sending car bombs and executing assassinations in the Christian enclave for Syria’s interest. Assad himself placed a protective umbrella over Hobeika because the Palestinians wanted to kill him and gave him a residence in Damascus and protection for the “favors” he did for Syria.

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