Lebanon, small republic of about 3,8 million people in southwest Asia, on the Mediterranean, bordered by Syria on the north and east and Israel on the south. Modern Lebanon is the only Arab State with a large Christian community. The capital is the free port of Beirut. Since the Civil War and subsequent conflicts (beginning in the 1970s), the strong financial and trade industries have weakened as well as other sectors of the Lebanese economy.
Land and climate
Geographically the country can be divided into 4 regions, all more or less parallel to the sea: a flat coastal strip along the Mediterranean, the Lebanon mountain range, the narrow Bekaa (Biqa) Valley, only 10 mi wide and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains of the eastern border. The Bekaa Valley, lying between the 2 major mountain ranges, is the country's most fertile area, though the coastal strip is also entirely fertile. Lebanon is fortunate in having more rainfall and a more moderate climate than most of the neighboring countries. In the past the country was famed for the cedars of Lebanon, which probably covered large tracts of its mountain ranges. Today only a few small cedar groves remain. The capital, Beirut, is a seaport of relatively recent origin. Other important cities are Tripoli (Tarabulus), the ancient Tyre and Sidon along the coast, and Zahle in the interior.
The people of Lebanon are of mixed ancestry, but mostly Arab. About 40% are Christians. An Armenian community also exists. Most of the remainder are Sunni Muslims, with a smaller group of the Shi'te sect. The small Druze sect has played a significant part in Lebanese history, especially as a political and military force in the recent conflicts.
Lebanon is the site of ancient Phoenicia. Although engulfed by successive invaders—Greek, Roman, Arab and Turkish—it preserved some degree of autonomy. Lebanon's inaccessible mountains were an early refuge for persecuted religious groups, especially Christians. Freed from Turkish rule after World War I, the country passed into French hands, becoming effectively independent in 1943. Civil war erupted in 1975 between the conservative Christian Phalangists and leftist Muslim and Palestinian militias, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1982 after years of skirmishes with the PLO in southern Lebanon, Israel invaded Lebanon, occupying Beirut and eventually forcing many PLO guerrillas to leave the country. A multinational peace-keeping force, including U.S. marines, arrived (1982) in Beirut, but withdrew within 1 year. The withdrawal was due, in part, to a terrorist attack on U.S. and French compounds which killed over 241 Marines (Oct. 23, 1983). By 1985 Israeli troops also withdrew from all but southern Lebanon. Since 1985 various attempts at ceasefires and political settlements have been made by Syria and other countries involved in the conflict. In 1996 the violence in South Lebanon escalated when Hezbollah fired missiles at North Israel. In return, Israel bombarded Beirut and South Lebanon. The violence caused new streams of refugees.