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The Bus Massacre, also known as the ‘Ain el-Rammaneh incident’ (or 'massacre'), was the collective name given to a short series of armed clashes involving Lebanese Christian and Palestinian elements in the streets of central Beirut, which is commonly presented as the spark that set off the Lebanese Civil War in the mid-1970s.


Early in the morning of April 13, 1975, outside the Church of Notre Dame de la Delivrance at the predominantly Christian district of Ain el-Rammaneh in East Beirut, occurred an altercation between half a dozen armed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas (Arabic: Fedayyn) on a passing vehicle performing the customary waving and firing their automatic rifles into the air (Arabic: Baroud)[1] and a squad of uniformed militiamen belonging to the Phalangist PartyKataeb Regulatory Forces (KRF) militia who were diverting the traffic at the front of the newly consecrated temple where a family baptism was taking place. As the Palestinian militias refused to be diverted from their route, the Phalangists tried to halt their progress by force and a scuffle quickly ensued, which resulted in the death of the PLO driver of the vehicle after being shot.

At 10:30 am, when the congregation was concentrated outside the front door of the temple upon the conclusion of the ceremony, a group of unidentified gunmen approached in two civilian cars – rigged with posters and bumper stickers belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a PLO faction – and suddenly opened fire, killing four Phalangist militants:[2][3][4] Joseph Abu Assi, a Phalange militant and father of the baptized child and his three bodyguards – Antoine Husseini, Dib Assaf and Selman Ibrahim Abou – shot while attempting to return fire on the assailants.[citation needed] They belonged to the personal entourage of the Maronite Zaim Pierre Gemayel, the powerful leader of the right-wing Phalangist Party, who was lightly wounded in the head. The attackers fled the scene under fire from the surviving bodyguards and KRF militiamen on duty at the time.

The Bus attack

In the commotion that followed, armed Phalangist KRF and NLP Tigers militiamen took the streets, and began to set up roadblocks at Ain el-Rammaneh and other Christian-populated eastern districts of the Lebanese Capital, stopping vehicles and checked identities,[5] while in the mainly Muslim western sectors the Palestinian factions did likewise.

Assuming the perpetrators were Palestinian guerrillas who carried out the attack and outraged by the audacity of the attempt on the life of their historical leader, the Phalangists planned an immediate response. Shortly after mid-day, a PLO bus carrying Palestinian refugees,[6] of whom some were armed, returning from a political rally at Tel el-Zaatar held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) passed through Ain el-Rammaneh on its way to Sabra refugee camp. The bus drove through the narrow street-alleys, where there was an armed Phalangist presence due to the earlier incident. Upon seeing it pass, the Phalangist militants opened fire on the bus, killing 27, and wounding 19. According to sociologist Samir Khalaf all 28 passengers were killed.[7]


This bloody incident, which became known as the “Bus massacre”, incited long-standing sectarian hatred and mistrust, and sparked heavy fighting throughout the country between Kataeb Regulatory Forces militiamen and the Palestinian Fedayyn and their leftist-Muslim allies of the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) alliance, resulting in over 300 dead in just three days.[8]

The recently appointed Lebanese Prime-Minister, the Sunni Rashid al-Sulh, tried vainly to defuse the situation as quickly as possible by sending in the evening of the day following the massacre a Gendarmerie detachment from the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) to Ain el-Rammaneh, which detained a number of suspects. In addition, Prime-Minister Sulh tried to pressure Phalangist Party’ President Pierre Gemayel to hand over to the authorities the Phalangist KRF militiamen responsible for the death of the Palestinian driver. Gemayel publicly refused however, hinting that he and his Party would no longer abide by the authority of the government due to the influx of the Palestinians and PLO.[9]

He later sent a Phalangist delegation on a mission to secure the release of the previously detained suspects held in custody by Lebanese authorities, stating that the individuals involved in the incident were just defending themselves and that no charges could be pressed against them.

As news of the murders spread, armed clashes between PLO guerilla factions and other Christian militias erupted throughout the Lebanese Capital. Soon Lebanese National Movement (LNM) militias entered the fray alongside the Palestinians. Numerous ceasefires and political talks held through international mediation proved fruitless. Sporadic violence escalated into a full-fledged civil war over the next two years, known as the 1975-76 phase of the Lebanese Civil War, in which 80,000 people lost their lives and split Lebanon along factional and sectarian lines for another 16 years.


The chain of events that led to the Ain el-Rammaneh PLO driver incident and the subsequent “Bus massacre” in April 1975 have been the subject of intense speculation and passionate debate in Lebanon since the end of the Civil War in 1990. There are two conflicting versions of what happened that day, with the Phalangists describing it as an act of self-defense by insisting that the bus carried armed ALF guerrilla reinforcements firing weapons, hurrying along to avenge their dead driver. The Phalangists anticipated such a reaction by waiting in ambush, and in the ensuing shoot-out they claimed to have killed 14 Palestinian Fedayin.[citation needed]

Although most PLO accounts deny this version of the event, describing the bus passengers as civilian families, victims of an unprovoked attack, and not fully armed guerrillas, Abd al-Rahim Ahmad of the ALF did confirm years later that some of them were off-duty members of his faction.[10] Another high-rank PLO official, Abu Iyad, later suggested that the incident was not the responsibility of the Phalange, but rather a deliberate provocation engineered by the National Liberal Party (NLP), a predominately Christian conservative Party led by former President Camille Chamoun.[11]

As for the SSNP gunmen involved in the April 1975 drive-by shooting, they were never apprehended and apparently disappeared without a trace. Some unconfirmed reports suggest that they were later killed in action.[citation needed]

The bus was found and exhibited in mid-2011.[12]

See also


  1. O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 1.
  2. Gordon, The Gemayels (1988), p. 48.
  3. Katz, Russel & Volstad, Armies in Lebanon (1985), p. 4.
  4. Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states: Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books. p. 99. 
  5. Katz, Russel & Volstad, Armies in Lebanon (1985), p. 5.
  6. Hirst, David (2010). Beware of small states: Lebanon, battleground of the Middle East. Nation Books. p. 99. 
  7. Khalaf, Samir (2002): Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Human Contact; New York: Columbia University Press; p. 228f
  8. Harris, Faces of Lebanon (1997), p. 161.
  9. O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon (1998), p. 2.
  10. Personal interview with Rex Brynen in Amman, Jordan, December 28, 1986
  11. Abu Iyad, My Home, My Land (1981), p. 164.
  12. Mayault, Isabelle (6 November 2011). "Le bus et son double". Retrieved 16 January 2013. 

Further reading

  • Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf, with Eric Rouleau), My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle, Times Books, New York 1981. ISBN 0-8129-0936-4
  • Edgar O'Ballance, Civil War in Lebanon, 1975-92, Palgrave Macmillan, 1998. ISBN 0-333-72975-7
  • Rex Brynen, Sanctuary and Survival: the PLO in Lebanon, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.
  • Samuel M. Katz, Lee E. Russel & Ron Volstad, Armies in Lebanon 1982-84, Men-at-Arms series 165, Osprey Publishing, London 1985. ISBN 0-85045-602-9
  • William W. Harris, Faces of Lebanon: Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1997. ISBN 1-55876-115-2
  • Matthew S. Gordon, The Gemayels (World Leaders Past & Present), Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. ISBN 1-55546-834-9
  • Denise Ammoun, Histoire du Liban contemporain: Tome 2 1943-1990, Fayard, Paris 2005. ISBN 978-2-213-61521-9 (in French)
  • Jean Sarkis, Histoire de la guerre du Liban, Presses Universitaires de France - PUF, Paris 1993. ISBN 978-2-13-045801-2 (in French)
  • Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War, London: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-280130-9 (3rd ed. 2001).

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