An independent republic of SW Asia, at the E end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bounded by Syria on the N and E, and on the S by Israel. It has been the site of some of the oldest settlements in the world. Lebanon is mentioned as early as the second millennium b.c. in the Epic of Gilgamesh as the source of the cedar, the country’s national emblem. The early Canaanites arrived c. 3000 b.c., possibly from Arabia or the Persian Gulf area. At first they were under Egyptian rule, and tablets were found in Beirut attributed to Ramses II of Egypt in the 13th century b.c. Egyptian rule waned in the 12th century b.c. When Canaan to the south fell to the Hebrews, the settlers along the coastal region of Phoenicia became proficient and aggressive sea traders and colonizers. Jaffa (Yafo), Dor, Acre, and Ugarit were Canaanite- Phoenician centers, while settlements were founded in Asia Minor and Cyprus. In North Africa they founded Carthage, and along the coast they set up small colonies as stepping stones to Spain, where they established Gadir, now Cadiz, c. 1100 b.c. The chief cities of the Phoenician maritime empire were Tyre (now Sur), Sidon (Sayda), Byblos (Jubayl), and Tripoli (Tarabulus).
Their success made Phoenicia attractive to the Assyrians and the Persians as a source of trade and ships, and in 538 b.c. it became part of the Persian Empire. In 332 b.c. it was conquered by Alexand er the Great, although it took him a full year of siege to bring down Tyre. Lebanon, along with Syria, came under Roman rule in 64 b.c. and it was part of the Byzantine Empire until conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century a.d. When the Middle East was unified under the Ottoman Empire, Lebanon became part of it, although retaining considerable autonomy under its local families. In the seventh century the Maronites, a Syrian Christian sect, was founded, and Lebanon thereafter tended to be dominated by Christians. The crusaders were active in Lebanon and received help from the Lebanese Christians. Circa 1020, the Druse appeared, a sect distantly related to Islam, but which has distinctive characteristics and is itself broken into subsects. The Druse harbor an intense hatred for the Maronites, and this antipathy has been a continual source of tension in the later history of Lebanon. In 1841 and 1860 the Druse massacred the Maronites; this led the European powers to persuade the Ottoman sultans to grant greater independence to Lebanon, which came under a Christian governor from 1861 to 1914. Lebanon was autonomous under French mand ate from 1920 to 1940. In 1926 it was reorganized as the Lebanese Republic and its constitution, previously suspended, was restored in 1937. The British and Free French took it over in 1941 during World War II, and full independence was granted January 1, 1945, the French troops leaving in 1946. Since then, its history has been turbulent. There was a revolt in 1958 and U.S. Marines were sent to quell it. Christians, Jews, Maronites, Druse, and other religious groups have been divisive, often resorting to civil war. In the 1970s and 1980s, civil war wracked the country as Christian, Muslim, and Druse factions battled along with external incursions from Israel and Syria. Syrian forces invaded the country in 1975 at the request of Muslim forces. Israel invaded in 1978 to control attacks from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but left after UN peacekeeping forces entered the country. The UN could not keep the peace, and in 1982, Israel again invaded the country to take out PLO guerrilla bases. After the election and subsequent assassination of Bashir Gemayel, Christian forces attacked Palestinian refugee camps and massacred 1,000. A multinational peacekeeping force arrived, but soon left after one bombing partially destroyed the U.S. embassy in Beirut and another killed 260 U.S. Marines and 60 French soldiers. The multinational force left in 1984, and the Israelis in 1985 (leaving some troops in a security zone in the south), but the Syrians remained. The late 1980s saw renewed factional fighting, with Shi’ite groups backed by Iran adding to the mix. In 1991, a treaty between Lebanon and Syria gave Syria control over Lebanon’s foreign relations. Peace talks brought about the release of all Western hostages taken by the militias. In southern Lebanon, there was intense fighting between Israel and the Shi’ite Hezbollah militias. Israel redrew its forces from Lebanon in 2000. In 2000, Rafik Hariri, an opposition cand idate became prime minister, but Syria intervened, extending the pro-Syrian president’s term another three years. The Hariri government resigned in protest, and Omar Karami was appointed prime minister. In 2005, Hariri was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut. Anti-Syrian protests ensued, and Syria was forced to withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon. Najib Mikati, a pro-Syrian moderate was appointed prime minister with the support of the opposition.