Tal al-Zaatar contained about 2,500 Palestinian guerrillas intermixed with a civilian population of roughly 15,000. The camp was divided into five main sections controlled by different factions of the PLO, Fatah, the PFLP-GC (Ahmad Jibril), the PFLP (George Habash), The PDFLP (Hawatmeh), and Saiqa. This Saiqa unit which under normal conditions would be under Syrian control was taking orders from PLO command. These PLO camps near the Beirut River were heavily armed fortresses built around a former industrial park. Within the two sprawling camps, the PLO's furthest outpost in Christian-held territory, was an impressive array of military armaments, which included surface-to-air and surface-to-surface missiles, artillery, antiaircraft guns, and PLO special forces. Because Tal al-Zaatar was honeycombed with bunkers and tunnels and a layered defense system the camp, which was a seventy-four-acre complex, would be able to hold out for months against repeated attacks.
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