Lebanon’s ordeal from civil war to port blast

Lebanon's parliament speaker Nabih Berri speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon

One of the worst years in Lebanon’s tumultuous history is drawing to a close with the country reeling from the aftermath of a massive chemical explosion and an economic meltdown that looks set to cause even more trouble in 2021.

Here is a timeline of some of Lebanon’s troubles since 1975:


Civil war erupts after Christian gunmen ambush a bus carrying Palestinians in southern Beirut. A “Green Line” frontline divides Beirut into Christian East and Muslim West.


Israel invades south Lebanon and sets up an occupation zone in an operation against Palestinian guerrillas.


Israel invades all the way to Beirut. The Syrian army is ousted from Beirut and thousands of Palestinian fighters under Yasser Arafat are evacuated by sea after a bloody 10-week siege.

Israel’s ally and head of Christian militia Lebanese Forces, Bashir Gemayel, is elected president but killed before taking office. Hundreds of civilians in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila are massacred by Christian militiamen allowed in by Israeli troops. Bashir’s brother, Amin Gemayel, becomes president.


Israel and Lebanon sign a peace agreement under U.S. patronage. Syria opposes it and it is never ratified.

Shi’ite Muslim suicide bombers kill 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers in Beirut as part of a multinational force.


Muslim militiamen seize West Beirut. The Lebanese army splits along religious lines. The peace deal with Israel is cancelled and Gemayel breaks with Israel under Syrian pressure.


Parliament fails to elect a successor to Gemayel, who appoints Christian army commander General Michel Aoun to head military cabinet. Muslim officers quit.


Parliament elects Rene Mouawad president. He is killed by a bomb in West Beirut days later. Parliament elects Elias Hrawi president but Aoun rejects his authority.

Aoun declares a war of liberation against Syrian forces and opposes the Taif peace agreement negotiated in Saudi Arabia.


Aoun and the Christian Lebanese Forces militia led by Samir Geagea battle for months to control Christian enclave. The Vatican arranges a ceasefire.

In October, Syrian forces drive Aoun out of the presidential palace. He goes into exile in France.


Parliament passes an amnesty law pardoning all political crimes as the civil war comes to an end.


Rafik al-Hariri, a Saudi-backed billionaire, becomes prime minister after the first post-war election.


Israel launches the 17-day “Operation Grapes of Wrath”, that kills more than 200 Lebanese in retaliation for Hezbollah shelling northern Israel.


Hariri is killed on Feb. 14 when a massive bomb explodes as his motorcade travelled through Beirut; 21 others also died.

Mass demonstrations and international pressure force Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon. Shi’ite allies of Damascus stage their own big rallies in support of Syria.


In July, Hezbollah crosses the border into Israel, kidnaps two Israeli soldiers and kills others, sparking a five-week war. At least 1,200 people in Lebanon and 158 Israelis are killed.

After the war, tensions in Lebanon simmer over Hezbollah’s arsenal. In November, Hezbollah and its allies quit the cabinet led by Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and organise street protests against it.

Anti-Syria politician Pierre Gemayel, Amin Gemayel’s eldest son, is assassinated in November.


Hezbollah and its allies maintain a sit-in protest against the Siniora government for the entire year. Their stated demand is veto power in the government.


Wissam Eid, a police intelligence officer investigating the Hariri assassination, is killed by a car bomb in January.

In May, Siniora’s cabinet accuses Hezbollah of running a private telecoms network and installing spy cameras at Beirut airport. The cabinet vows legal action against the network.

Hezbollah said the move against its telecoms network was a declaration of war by the government. After a brief conflict, Hezbollah takes control of mainly Muslim west Beirut.

After mediation, rival leaders sign a deal in Qatar to end 18 months of political conflict.


The first government led by Hariri’s political heir, Saad, is toppled when Hezbollah and its allies quit because of tensions over a U.N.-backed tribunal into the Rafik al-Hariri assassination.


Hezbollah fighters deploy in Syria to aid government forces facing a Sunni rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.

In October, a car bomb kills senior security official Wissam al-Hassan. The intelligence unit he led had in August arrested Michel Samaha, a pro-Syrian former minister who was charged with transporting Syrian-assembled bombs to wage attacks in Lebanon.


Saad al-Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, which is furious at Hezbollah’s expanding role in Lebanon, hit a nadir in November when it was widely acknowledged Riyadh forced him to resign and held him in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia and Hariri publicly deny this version of events, though France’s Emmanuel Macron later confirms that Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia.


Amid a stagnant economy and slowing capital inflows, the government faces pressure to curb a massive budget deficit.

Proposals to cut the state wage and pension bill meet stiff opposition. The government vows to enact long-delayed reforms but fails to make progress that might unlock foreign support.

In October, a government move to tax internet calls ignites big protests against the ruling elite. Lebanese of all sects take part, accusing leaders of corruption and mismanagement.

Hariri quits on Oct. 29. The financial crisis accelerates. Depositors are frozen out of their savings as a hard currency liquidity crunch bites. The currency begins to crash.


Hassan Diab, a little-known academic, becomes prime minister with backing from Hezbollah and its allies.

Lebanon defaults on its sovereign debt in March.

Talks with the IMF get nowhere as the main parties and the influential banks resist a financial recovery plan.

The financial collapse accelerates, with the currency losing up to 80% of its value. Poverty rates soar.

On Aug. 4, a vast quantity of ammonium nitrate explodes at Beirut port, killing 200 people, wounding 6,000 and devastating swathes of Beirut, prompting the Diab government to quit.

The U.N.-backed tribunal convicts a Hezbollah member of conspiring to kill Rafik al-Hariri 15 years after his death.

Hariri is designated to form a new government but the parties remain at odds over portfolios even as the World Bank warns that poverty will likely engulf more than half the population in 2021 and central bank reserves dwindle.

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