HK asks me to kill Elias Shartouni, I refuse, Joseph Asmar carry the operation.
Since 1977, Habib Tanios Shartuni, a Maronite, was an active member of the Syrian Socialist National Party, “SNSP”. Shartuni was a strong and indelible ally of the Syrians. He was just a puppet, but a very useful one. The whole hierarchy pulled the strings with complete confidence, knowing that Shartuni would abide and no questions asked.
Stating with no regrets or fear, the 26-year-old Habib T. Shartuni confessed at a press conference before being handed over to the Lebanese Justice by the Lebanese Forces. Shartuni confessed, “I was given the explosives and the fancy long-range electronic detonator in West Beirut’s Ras Beirut neighborhood by Nabil El Alam, Chief intelligence of the Party.” Alam had close ties to the Syrian Intelligence Services and right after the assassination fled to Syria and vanished into thin air, the Syrians would operated with the Secret Services of an eastern country. It was speculated that this eastern country was the Soviet Union with its potent and powerful ambassador Alexander Soldatov who, some believe, engineered part, if not all of the war in Lebanon.
Shartuni advised that on the night of September 13, 1982, he sneaked onto the second floor of the building housing the Kataeb Party Office in Ashrafieh. His behavior did not arose suspicion because he lived on the third floor with his sister and grandparents. He got into the room right above the platform on which Bashir and his companions would be seated and stashed about 40 to 50 kgs of high explosives.
The next afternoon Shartuni stuck around the place until he made sure Bashir arrived, and walked out of the building. Shartuni ran to the sector of Nasra with the detonator. Right after the blast Shartuni walked back to the premises to check the result.
Hardly three months after being handed over to Gemayel, Habib Sharttini’s mother, father and uncle, on his father’s side, were assassinated on Hobeika’s personal orders. Their murderer was a relative of theirs, Elias Shartuni, a close friend and benefactor of H.K. They were immediately buried in the Nahr sector known as Sa’et el Abed between Nahr and Furn El Shebbak. Elias Shartuni was not just a Lebanese Forces Commander, he was a good friend to all. He was lavish, had plenty of money and knew how to spend it thriftlessly. Easy come, easy go, he used to say, and always had his hand in his pocket with us. Shartuni started to call on the Lebanese Forces Security Council members, namely Butros Khawand, Fuad Abu Nader, Elias el Zayek, Fady Frem and told them how he had been generous with H.K. and how, in return, he had bound him to bump off Habib’s folks. Hobeika having ears everywhere heard about Shartuni’s brash talk and foamed with rage. To Hobeika, E. Shartuni was getting too dangerous to his liking. He had to be wiped out. It was true Shartuni was very useful to him in every way, but the odds were against him.
When H.K decided to eliminate E. Shartuni, he asked me to plan and carry out his assassination. I kept putting off the execution order because Shartuni was a friend of mine. I just could not get myself to do it and I could not help recalling how this man I was asked to shoot used to offer me and the boys of H.K’s close protection team, large tips, and expensive leather jackets. It was true that he made a fortune with drugs, getting commissions from all drugs smuggled out of Lebanon. For the first time, I stalled and overlooked Hobeika’s orders.
In the end, Hobeika gave up nagging me and sent Joseph El Asmar to shoot Shartuni. Asmar did shoot Shartuni down in broad daylight as he was stepping out of the Barber’s shop in Mar Yuhanna, Ashrafieh. Habib Tanios Shartuni never knew that his parents had been killed in cold blood, for no reason except that they had a criminal son, and without even an elementary burial, by Elias Shartuni, a kin, the bodies were dumped under a tree.
Now that Bashir’s murderer was in the Lebanese Justice hands, Amin Gemayel had scored a victory against the Lebanese Forces War Council. The Lebanese Forces adamantly refused to hand him over. Amin was elected president six days after Bashir’s death and two days after the massacres of Sabra and Chatilla. With Israeli backing, Amin knew that the honeymoon between him and the Lebanese Forces was over and that he would have to cross swords with them over major issues. Both sides had too much at stake. Rivalry and betrayal set in. Bashir’s death had triggered renewed intercommunal strife for power and money!
No sooner was Bashir buried, than his lieutenants, free from his control, began vieing for political position and power, planning, shifting alliances, never true to themselves or to each other. Their actions and options were dictated by a frantic race for power, unconcerned about their Christian community. Fadi Frem, Fuad Abou Nader, Elie Hobeika, Samir Geagea and Karim Pakradouni, “Mr. Manipulator”, were now focused on striking secret alliances and scheming against each other. All of these leaders, except Pakradouni, were trained in Israel and had good friends and strong links there. Frem and Abou Nader had no elbow room with regard to their connection with President Amin Gemayel. Paralyzed by family ties, Hobeika, Geagea and Pakradouni soon became the “intifadists”, the future mutineers. Each was different in age, education and temper, but they were united by their common dislike and conflict with the President and the Kataeb Party. The stronger bind was their momentary need for each other to build their position and power.
Hobeika considered Samir Geagea a tough highlander without a shred of political sense and no real ambitions except military capability. Hobeika placed Geagea as the taxi-levier at the Barbara checkpoint to gain his favor.
Like Bashir, Hobeika had always had a cynical and contemptuous view of his own militia men and the Christian citizens. Unlike Bashir, Hobeika was more subtle, and subversive in his approach than others. After the Sabra and Chatilla massacres, the division between General Ariel Sharon and Hobeika was consummated. Hobeika did not seem concerned. He made a complete reversal without compunction. He thought he had a stronger and better paying ally.
Like Bashir after the “Safra Operation”, Hobeika after Sabra and Chatilla and his break off with Ariel Sharon, backed by the Syrians and their “Man in Lebanon” Assaad Hardane, set out to burn Lebanon and crush the Christians. Hobeika’s attributed role was to knock the Christians down on their knees. From the start, the motto Hobeika and the other leaders instilled into us was, “we’ll never ever kneel down”.
Hobeika high-handy ordered the massacre of Christians, beginning with the “Ahrar”, Chamoun’s National Liberal Party members, and militants who dared remain in sectors under his control. Hobeika ended his killing spree with his own loyal followers and fighters most of whom were from Karm el Zeitoun and Hay El Syrian, his pillars and mainstay, and for whom he never had any regard. The best example was Issam Awwad and George Massoud from “Karm”. Hobeika disliked them, but needed them for his dirty jobs. They were tough, ruthless and fearless and absolutely loyal to him. They were executed in cold blood, under the supervision of Zahleh Chief Executioner Fadi Saroufim assisted by Karim Hankash known as Gilbert Baz, and Ibrahim Haddad known as Jean Abdel Messih.
Earlier in 1983, he ordered the assassination of a great number of Tigers. One was Laila Moawad from Ayn Remaney. She was assassinated on the false pretense that she was a double agent. Her corpse was dumped in a pit. A number of top Tiger officers experienced the same fate. Kindo, Joseph Abou Yunes, Al Tayyar was killed in front of his Ayn Remaneh home. Al Abbutt was killed in the hospital where he was under medical care for his wounds. The targets also included: Joseph and Jean Ba’yzek; Al Arnab; Samir Al Vito; Roukoz Al Assouf, Chaker el Haddad; Assaad Ghanem; Elie Kafah; three brothers from the Alya family; and, a newly married police officer from the Noujeim family who was charged with coordination with the Tigers and executed for his alleged crimes.
Hobeika ordered the assassination of Elias Moussa, a Lebanese army commando officer. Moussa was killed at the Defense Ministry in Yarze because he was suspected of having arrested Hobeika and Melco at one time. Elias Nemr, alias “Secam”, member of the Al Amn Militia, was killed in cold blood, in his prison cell in Yarze. He was killed because he was a Lebanese Forces top leader and possessed crucial information about Hobeika and his operations. Hobeika was fearful that Moussa might break down and come clean.
Hobeika also ordered the assassination of a great number of Amin Gemayel’s militants: Milan Abou Khalil, thrown in Kanater Al Zbeidi; Camille Sarkis, in Douar; and, Tanios Al Khoury, killed in front of the Lebanese University in Fanar. Elias Nemr fled to Canada for political asylum under unbearable pressure.
With his notorious muteness and mystery halo, he crushed whatever and whoever stood in his way. Hobeika was “H.K.”, the rest were slaves! His only objective after the breakup with General Sharon was to consolidate and gain the highest favors of the quintessential Syrians. The Syrians were now an extremely attractive ally to snatch from Amin Gemayel. With Bashir out of the way, Hobeika could unleash his zenith ambition.
To hit the mark, Hobeika terrorized the Christians bringing them to their knees. That was all the Syrians would want from him. Syria’s number two man in command, Abdul Halim Khaddam, told him once in front of me, Cobra: “Control the ground, you hold the decision”. His campaign of muscles and charm began to work out, unaware as he was, or too arrogant to realize that the Syrians use other people and cannot be used. He aimed higher than his friend, Rifaat e I Assad, within the Syrian command. To combat the Kataeb Party, and the Lebanese Forces War Council, specially the newly elected pro-Amin Commander Fuad Abou Nader, he wanted no less than Abdul Halim Khaddam on his side. He schemed and plotted. Strong with the Kataeb Party’s total support, he was the Party’s pet, especially Joseph Saadeh’s plant and the Lebanese Forces bogey.
Earlier when they refused to hand over Bashir’s assassin for prosecution to Amin Gemayel, the Lebanese Forces were showing their lack of faith in Amin and their determination to trip up the State. Habib Tanios Shartuni was kept in Hobeika’s jail because, as rumors started circulating, Shartuni involved the Lebanese Forces in the assassination! Shartuni and his family were all members of the pre-war banned Syrian People’s Party, Al Hizb Al Kawmi Al Souri, now the SNSP. They were allowed to live in the building accommodating the Ashrafieh Branch of the Kataeb Party.
Jean Nader, then Chief of that important Section and one of Bashir’s closest assistants in charge of “The Kataeb Party National Fund” and the Lebanese Forces’ finances, had kicked them out during the two-year war then allowed them back. Since then, he was said to be having an “affair” with Shartuni’s younger sister! Nader was killed in the blast and the question has remained without definite answer.