Lebanon is the historic home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years (c.2700-450 B.C.). In later centuries, Lebanon's mountains were a refuge for Christians, and Crusaders established several strongholds there. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations mandated the five provinces that had comprised present-day Lebanon to France. Modern Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political power between the various religious groups. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946.
Lebanon's history from independence has been marked by periods of political turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade. In 1958, during the last months of President Camille Chamoun's term, an insurrection broke out, and U.S. forces were briefly dispatched to Lebanon in response to an appeal by the government. During the 1960s, Lebanon enjoyed a period of relative calm and Beirut-focused tourism and banking sector-driven prosperity. Other areas of the country, however, notably the South, North, and Biqa' Valley, experienced increasing impoverishment.
In the early 1970s, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian refugees, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and "Black September" 1970 hostilities in Jordan. Among the latter were Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense.
In the late 1990s, the government took action against Sunni Muslim extremists in the north who had attacked its soldiers, and it continues to move against groups such as Asbat al-Ansar, which has been linked to Usama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. On January 24, 2002, Elie Hobeika, another former Lebanese Forces figure associated with the Sabra and Shatilla massacres who later served in three cabinets and the parliament, was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut. An estimated 25,000 Syrian troops remain in position in many areas of Lebanon, notwithstanding Ta'if stipulations that called for agreement between the Syrian and Lebanese Governments on their redeployment by September 1992. They did not leave greater Beirut until mid-2001, a year after Israel withdrew from the south, where armed elements of Hizballah are still present.