Elie Hobeika was a leader of the Phalangist Lebanese Forces (LF) during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). He was notorious for his ruthlessness, savagery and shifting loyalties throughout the conflict. He was assassinated on January 24th, 2002.
The Maronite Christians, of whom Hobeika is a member, have sought to dominate the Muslim majority of Lebanon since the state's inception. The right-wing Phalangist militia found common cause with the Israel when the latter wanted to dislodge the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) from southern Lebanon in 1982.
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli defence minister at the time, ordered a full-scale invasion of Lebanon. A later investigation found that Israeli officers allowed the the Christian LF, led by Hobeika, to enter the Sabra and Shatilla Palestinian refugee camps and carry out a savage massacre. Just a few days earlier the commander of the LF had been assassinated by the PLO. Up to 1,700 refugees were slaughered over 38 hours.
Hobeika has been accused of ordering several assassinations during the 1980's by Robert Hatem, a former bodyguard. These include the assassination of MP Tony Franjieh in 1978, the attempted assassination of MP Mustaph Saad (whose daughter Natasha was killed in the 1985 attack) and the attempted assassination of the Selim al-Hoss (later Prime Minister). He has also been accused of plotting against other LF commanders.
Hobeika's loyalties later shifted from Israel to Syria. In 1993 Palestinians charged Sharon with involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacre in a Belgian courts (who have power to charge anyone with crimes against humanity committed anywhere).
Two Belgian senators met with Hobeika two days before his killing. He informed them that he was willing to be a key prosecution witness in the case. He claimed to possess video evidence that would clear his name and show the extent of Sharon's involvement in the atrocity. Four days before his killing his deputy Jean Ghanem died as a result of a car accident. It is believed he suffered a heart attack at the wheel.
As Hobeika and three bodyguards drove down a street in a Christian suburb in eastern Beirut in their Land Rover, a parked car they were passing exploded. The detonation had been done remotely. The professional nature of the killing suggests an intelligence organisation was involved. Many suspect the hand of Israel, others suspect Syrian involvement. Palestinians rejoiced at his killing. Few mourned the assassination of Elie Hobeika but what really happened at Sabra and Shatila may now never be known.