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1982: PLO leader forced from Beirut

The leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has left his Beirut headquarters after more than a decade.

Yasser Arafat has been forced out of Lebanon following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon some three months ago.

Israeli forces entered the country after an assassination attempt on their ambassador in London by Palestinian dissidents.

Their original aim was to wipe out Palestinian guerrilla bases near Israel's northern border but their forces pushed all the way to Beirut.

Mr Arafat's departure is the culmination of an agreed evacuation of the PLO from Beirut following what is widely regarded as a heavy defeat for the Palestinians.

Thousands of Palestinians who remain in Beirut cheered Mr Arafat as he left the former PLO offices for the port.

At the same time, more than 2,000 Syrian troops also began leaving the Lebanese capital.

They have occupied Beirut since 1976 when they arrived to protect Lebanese Christians in their civil war against left-wing Palestinians and Muslims. Syria has since become the PLO's ally in its fight against Israel.

It seems unlikely that Mr Arafat, now heading for Greece by ship, will find another Arab government willing to take him in after the calamitous effect of his stay in Lebanon.

Large areas of the once beautiful and prosperous city have been reduced to rubble by seven years of unrest and civil war sparked by Mr Arafat's presence.

His forced departure from Lebanon is a grave blow to Palestinian hopes of re-gaining their homeland, part of which is now occupied by Israel.

Mr Arafat's power base is now shattered with his men scattered about the Arab world.

Under the agreed evacuation plan most of the PLO fighters will go to Cyprus and then be dispersed to Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, North and South Yemen, Tunisia and Greece.

The new PLO headquarters will be in Tunisia.

In Context
On 16 September 1982, Israeli-backed Christian militias entered two refugee camps in Beirut and massacred many hundreds of Palestinians over a period of three days. It was in revenge for the assassination of president-elect Bashir Gemayel four days earlier.

Estimates of the number killed range from 800 to 3,500 people.

The PLO established new headquarters in Tunis.

Years of violence followed before agreements on partial autonomy were signed in 1993 and 1995 between the PLO and Israel.

The Palestinian National Authority took control of the newly autonomous areas - Gaza and Jericho - with Yasser Arafat as its elected president from 1996.

The Palestinian Liberation Army replaced Israeli troops within the authority's jurisdiction.

Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. Following elections, Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as Palestinian president in January 2005 and called for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants.


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