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Ex-Lebanon President Helou Dies

January 7, 2001 GMT

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Former President Charles Helou, who tried to curb Palestinian guerrillas in the 1960s in Lebanon, died of a heart attack Sunday, state television reported. He was 87.

Helou died a few hours after being admitted to Al-Arz Hospital in Zalka, a town north of Beirut, in the early morning, the television said.

The French-speaking Helou was elected the country’s fourth president in 1964. His six years in office were marked by strife among Lebanese factions and with the guerrillas of the Palestinian refugee community _ confrontations that culminated in the civil war of 1975-90.

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Helou was credited with signing the so-called Cairo Agreement of November 1969 with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. The accord came after violent clashes with Palestinian guerrillas in the streets of Beirut. It was intended to limit the guerrillas’ freedom of movement, end their military training in refugee camps, and stop the guerrillas from firing at Israel before they had actually entered Israeli territory.

The purpose was to prevent Lebanese villagers and other civilians from getting hurt in Israeli counterattacks. Critics argued that the Cairo Agreement forced the guerrillas into strongholds in southeast Lebanon which, while reducing friction with the Lebanese, led to a rise in attacks on Israel as well as increased Israeli retaliation, which was not confined to the guerrillas’ allotted areas.

In 1982, Israel got fed up with the Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon and invaded the country, advancing as far as the outskirts of Beirut. Their troops began an occupation of south Lebanon that lasted until May 2000.

Helou had worked as a journalist and a lawyer before being elected to parliament in 1951. He held several posts in the Cabinet before becoming president.

During the civil war, Helou wrote for French newspapers and, ever the suave diplomat, tried to mediate an end to the fighting among Christian militia leaders.

He was an honorary president of the group of French-speaking nations. French is the second official language of Lebanon after Arabic.

He was born in Beirut and spent his last years alone in a villa in Kasslik, about 12 miles north of the capital. He and his late wife, Nina Trad, had no children.