News / Middle East

Lebanon Remembers 35th Anniversary of Civil War Outbreak

Lebanon's civil war broke out 35 years ago Tuesday, after a Palestinian school bus was fired upon by Lebanese Christian militiamen. The anniversary comes amid increasing tensions between Lebanon's Hezbollah and the governing March 14 coalition over Hezbollah's arms, allegedly being furnished by neighboring Syria.

Some lit candles in parts of Beirut to honor the estimated 200,000 people killed during Lebanon's bloody 15-year civil war. Fighting erupted 35 years ago, Tuesday, when Christian gunmen ambushed a Palestinian school bus.

Rival militiamen tore up much of Beirut, over years of street-battles and shelling, leaving the city scarred and divided. A final frenzy of fighting in 1989 resulted in an Arab-brokered peace agreement which brought the long ordeal to a close.

Paul Haidostian, who is president of Beirut's Haigazian University says that the anniversary of the war causes him to relive some sad and bitter memories.

"Every time I think about the civil war, I relive some of the saddest stories and I remember as a teenager, even, I used to say to myself: if only the world hears about this, someone will stop this carnage and aggression. But, then, when I grew up, I learned that even if people know about this in the world, people are quite insensitive and feel powerless in relation to stopping wars and tension," he said.

Despite the memories which people of his generation still carry with them, Haidostian argues optimistically that the younger generation has recovered for the most part and created a totally different world.

"Lebanon and the young generation has moved on, really. We've had alternative experiences, said Haidostian. "Being together and forgetting about the past, and so on, but once in a while, we realize that sometimes people have a nostalgia for the past, and part of the past is war. So, something comes up and people remember and once in a while we feel again that Lebanon is also a fragile country."

Beirut's An Nahar newspaper, whose front pages were once filled with gruesome scenes of explosions, rubble, carnage and fighting, paused to remember  Tuesday with the headline: "35 Years Ago, Today: Peace Among Us, Or Peace Be To Lebanon."

That peace remains fragile, especially with the often angry complaints by members of the March 14 parliamentary majority that the pro-Syrian Hezbollah is a "state-within-a-state."

Many Lebanese continue to demand that Hezbollah turn over its reportedly large cache of weapons to the government.

Despite the surface tensions, Timor Goksel, veteran former spokesman of the U.N. peacekeeping force UNIFIL, thinks that the situation in Lebanon is totally different from what it was during the civil war and that it is unlikely another civil war would break out, soon.

"People forget that when the civil war started, we had a massive military Palestinian presence which had already unsettled the balance in the country," he said. "We don't have an external military force in the country, anymore, and also, the Israeli involvement is not as it was before. Moreover, there is some sort of-not perfect yet-but there is some sort of civic peace that we did not have in those days."

Goksel also believes that the Lebanese government is much stronger and its security forces more capable of preventing the outbreak of a conflict than they once were. "There is a much more credible army, and the security forces are slowly rebuilding," he says. "It's a totally different ballgame."

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