BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese Forces (LF) party has said it is on course to emerge as the biggest bloc in Lebanon’s parliament after an election on Sunday, a boost for the Saudi-aligned Christian group which is opposed to the Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim movement Hezbollah.
The result would mean the LF overtaking Hezbollah’s main Christian ally, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, as the biggest Christian party in parliament.
What is the Lebanese Forces?
ESTABLISHED IN CIVIL WAR
– The LF was established in 1976 as Lebanon descended into civil war. Bashir Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, created the LF by unifying an array of Christian militias including the armed wing of his family’s Kataeb, or Phalange, party.
– It fought numerous adversaries, notably the Palestine Liberation Organisation – which controlled swathes of Lebanon at the time – and was backed by Israel. The LF’s Lebanese foes included Walid Jumblatt’s Druze militia.
– Gemayel was assassinated in 1982, a month after he was elected president following an Israeli invastion that reached Beirut. The killing triggered the massacre by Christian militiamen of Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.
– In 1983, the LF was defeated by Druze fighters in the Chouf mountains, leading some 250,000 Christians to flee the area, the biggest single sectarian displacement of the war.
– Samir Geagea, who rose through the ranks under Gemayel, took control of the LF in 1986. Under his command, the LF remained the most powerful Christian militia and ran a Christian enclave.
– The final years of the civil war were marked by a war between the LF and then-army commander Aoun, who was head of one of the two rival Lebanese governments at the time, for control of the Christian area. This conflict, known as the “war of elimination”, heaped destruction on Christian areas.
– The LF agreed to the peace deal that ended civil war and ceded control of its territory and weapons to the army in 1991. But tensions quickly surfaced between the LF and the new, Damascus-dominated order in Beirut as it became clear the Syrian army was not going to withdraw as set out in the agreement.
– In 1994, Geagea was arrested and put on trial for bombing a church and political killings in the war. He denied the accusations, saying he was the target of a politically motivated prosecution. Asked about cases brought against him from that time, Geagea has said they were fabricated by the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus.
– He was acquitted of the church bombing but convicted of political killings. He spent 11 years in solitary confinement, the only militia leader to go to jail, while others benefited from an amnesty and took cabinet posts.
– The Syria-backed Lebanese authorities banned the LF in 1994, jailing many LF activists and seizing its assets.
– A new phase began in 2005 when the Syrian army withdrew from Lebanon under international pressure following Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination. Geagea was released from prison.
– The LF joined an anti-Syrian alliance including civil war foes in confronting pro-Damascus factions including Hezbollah.
– Like Hezbollah’s other opponents, the LF believes the group’s arsenal undermines the state and sees it as a major factor contributing to Lebanon’s other problems.
– The LF has maintained this position while some of Hezbollah’s other critics set the issue to one side, saying the question of Hezbollah’s weapons could only be addressed by foreign powers. With this hawkish stance, the LF is widely seen as Saudi Arabia’s main Lebanese ally.
– The LF stayed out of cabinet after a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019, saying Lebanon’s problems could only be fixed by a cabinet independent of political factions.
– Clashes broke out between supporters of the LF and Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal in Beirut in 2021. Seven supporters of the Shi’ite groups were killed. Hezbollah accused the LF of perpetrating the killing.
The LF denied this, and said supporters of the Shi’ite parties had vandalised cars in a Christian neighbourhood and left four residents wounded before a shot was fired.
(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Angus MacSwan)