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View of Beirut, Lebanon, with palm and pine trees in the foreground (Aline Talatinian / iStockphoto)

Times of Trouble

Flashpoints in Modern Lebanese History

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1943 — Lebanon, which was a French territory after World War I, becomes an independent republic.

1958 — U.S. President Eisenhower sends Marines to Lebanon to quell a burgeoning civil war.

1967-1970 — After the Arab-Israeli War, an influx of Palestinian refugees establish camps in Lebanon, which become a base for militants and the nascent Palestinian Liberation Organization.

1975 — Civil war erupts in Lebanon after Christian militants attack a busload of Palestinians in Beirut, igniting sectarian tensions.

1976 — Syrian troops move into Beirut to support the Lebanese army, and end up staying for nearly 30 years.

1978 — Israeli troops invade Lebanon. They withdraw at the UN's insistence a few months later but maintain a 12-mile-wide buffer zone in the south until 2000.

1982 — In June, Israel invades again. In September, Lebanon's newly elected president Bashir Gemayel is assassinated, and his militia responds by killing hundreds in the Palestinian refugee camps. International peacekeepers are sent in, including Marines.

1983 — Shiite suicide bombers attack the U.S. embassy and then the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing more than 350 people in total. President Reagan withdraws the troops the next year.

1985 — Israel withdraws from all but the southern buffer zone.

1991 — Most militias disarm under the Taif agreement, ending the civil war, but Hezbollah stays armed as a "resistance force" against Israel.

1992 — Business mogul Rafik Hariri is elected Prime Minister, ushering in a period of economic growth and relative political stability.

2005 — Hariri is killed in a car bombing, and many suspect Syrian agents. Massive public protests catalyze the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

2006 — Hezbollah fighters kidnap two Israeli soldiers, launching a bloody 34-day war.

2007 — The president's term expires, and the post remains vacant for the next 6 months because the divided parliament cannot agree on a successor.

May 2008 — Parliament moves to reassign a Hezbollah-backed airport security official and shut down the group's private phone network. Hezbollah calls the moves "a declaration of war" and seizes much of Beirut by force, prompting fears of another civil war. Peace talks brokered by Qatar are successful but represent a major power shift in favor of Hezbollah, which emerges with parliamentary veto power. Michel Suleiman is elected president and reappoints Fouad Siniora as prime minister.

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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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