Memoirs of Late Prime Minister Saeb Salam (Part 2): The Americans Secured Arafat’s Protection as He Left Beirut
The second episode of the memoirs of late Lebanese Prime Minister Saeb Salam talks about the Israeli invasion in the summer of 1982, where Salam says that under the bombardment and raids, he felt as if “the gates of hell were wide open.”
Salam reviewed the contacts he made with the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Palestinian resistance officials, who used to live in Beirut, most notably: Abu Iyad, Abu Jihad, and Hani al-Hassan, as well as the Lebanese figures who played a role at that stage, especially President Elias Sarkis and Bashir Gemayel, who was leading the Lebanese Forces, then elected President of the Republic and assassinated before taking office.
The memoirs are issued in three parts by Hachette Antoine publishing house, and will be available in Lebanon starting June 28 and on the Antoine Online website.
The Israeli bombing of Beirut
Salam recounted that on the night of June 22, 1982, as Israel was intensely bombarding the capital, he decided to meet with the “Palestinian resistance.”
The next day, “Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat), who had come to my house when the Islamic Gathering was in session, spoke to me in an irrational way. He said: “I am encircled, I will strike in all directions… In the north, the south, the elderly, the children, the women, Jounieh, the whole country, everyone, the Israelis. … We will not die like this, we will not die.”
Salam continued: “I tried so hard to talk to him, to calm him down; but he wouldn’t listen. Then I tried again, saying: “[Then-US Envoy to Lebanon] Ambassador Philippe Habib is seriously seeking to stop the Israeli advancement.” He replied: “They will take the airport, they will transport the tanks by helicopter, they will crawl on us and we will not die, we will fight!””
Salam said that several days passed while he repeated, even to foreign newspapers and correspondents who flocked to Beirut, that the Palestinians fought gloriously and that they had the right to die only as fighters…
The late premier said that he insisted with Habib that the Lebanese army should go to Beirut, after agreeing with the Palestinians.
“Without an agreement with the Palestinians, the army cannot go down and ensure that there will not be a clash with the militants, especially the Palestinians. Abu Ammar refused this, and demanded that the Israeli army withdraw beyond 7 kilometers” from Beirut, he explained.
Salam recounted that one evening, he received a phone call from Habib, who said that he had obtained US confirmation that [then-Israeli Defense Minister Ariel] Sharon had agreed not to enter the Beirut airport, provided that the Palestinians stop their attacks.
“I was making these endeavors out of my concern for the Palestinian cause… I have taken from Habib guarantees that they will not allow attacking the Palestinians if the Lebanese army was in Beirut, nor would accept their humiliation or slaughter as he said, and I, in turn, conveyed these assurances as requested by America,” he wrote.
The threats of Yasser Arafat
Salam recounted in his memoirs that Yasser Arafat insisted on his stance, after having “emptied all his crazy and meaningless words… that he would destroy and strike east, south and north…”
He said that thousands of Beirut residents were forced to leave the city towards the north and the east, while others remained “at the mercy of Sharon’s bombs.”
“The month of Ramadan began while we were still under this situation… I was constantly imploring the world, news agencies and newspapers… I strived every hour with the ministers, with the ambassadors, with the ‘Islamic Gathering’… shouted that the Israelis wanted to eliminate the ‘Palestinian resistance’ once and for all…”
Salam continued: “I had to call the President of the Republic twice, and I spoke to him in a harsh tone, saying: “You are sitting in Baabda, but your capital is at the mercy of the Israelis every hour, and they may destroy it… I also spoke to the Grand Mufti and asked him to broadcast a statement on television, to the peoples of the world and the heads of friendly and brotherly countries…”
Talks with Bashir Gemayel
The late prime minister recounted in his memoirs: “I received the foreign correspondents at the Commodore Hotel… Germans, Italians, English, Americans and French, from BBC, AP, UP, New York Times, Le Monde and Der Spiegel… I was explaining to them the situation and developments… I believed that I was fulfilling my patriotic and national duty… as the Palestinian resistance could not be crushed under the feet of the Israeli invader.”
He stressed that he was repeating this stance “to our Maronite brothers, and to Bashir Gemayel in particular.”
Salam noted that while he maintained a good relationship with Bashir Gemayel, the latter’s attitude changed when the Israelis entered Lebanon.
Addressing Gemayel, Salam said: “Bashir, you know that my heart is open to you and my hands are outstretched… For the sake of Lebanon, we must cooperate… But today, I feel that you are shortsighted. If the Israelis achieve their goal and humiliate the resistance, you will be inflicted with great harm. And if they gain all of that and destroy Beirut and the Muslims… you will be at the mercy of the Israelis, and you will be the biggest losers.”
As for Arafat, Salam said that he would always come to him a few minutes after the Iftar, to sit for hours, arguing with him, without changing his stance.
The late premier pointed to an article by Michel Abou Jaoudeh, published in An-Nahar newspaper, which described Saeb Salam as the “president of the Republic of Beirut.”
The article emphasized that any solution to the Beirut issue should begin with solving the Lebanese problem, then the whole Middle East file.
“But if Beirut is destroyed or besieged, all of Lebanon will be gone, and there will be no peace in the region,” the article read, as translated from Arabic.
“Abou Jaoudeh’s view converged with mine,” Salam wrote.
He added: “In this context, I maintained continuous contacts with Habib and the resistance, especially after the leaders of the resistance wrote and signed a report that they were going to leave Beirut.”
The day the Palestinians left
“I remember that it was Monday, August 30, 1982, when Abu Ammar visited the Prime Minister, and from there went to the port…
“We entered the ship, where a meeting took place, attended by President Al-Wazzan, representing His Excellency the President of the Republic, and Rene Moawad. Abu Ammar gave a moving speech, then presented a message to Al-Wazzan, and a medal to Beirut in the name of the General Commander of the Organization… He called it, ‘the Beirut Resilience Medal.’
“I was quite satisfied with this farewell; because in fact, it allowed Abu Ammar and the Palestinian resistance, to leave with dignity. What caught everyone’s attention was that the Americans, although they refused to recognize the Palestinian organization, were guarding the roads from the commercial center to the port, on both sides, just as they guarded Abu Ammar with their battleships in the sea. So, this is an indirect acknowledgment, as the Greek ship was under the protection of the American and French fleet,” Salam wrote in his memoirs.
Source: Asharq Al-Awsat
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