- Sunday, 01 August 2010 17:52
The Kataeb Party has been described as a “builder, surrogate and defender of the [Lebanese] state”. By detractors it was a “fascist” group whose ideology was merely, “cover to maintain the social, political and economic privileges the Maronite Christian minority gained in collaborating with French imperialism”.
With most of its membership belonging to Lebanon’s Christian community and ostentatiously described as a “right wing” political group, Kataeb holds a number of key principles which put it in line with most centrist Western parties. Since the end of direct Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the party has undergone a number of major transformations
From 1958-1990 the party was a major player on the Lebanese political scene.
Following Syria’s conquest and occupation of Lebanon in 1990, the party became fractured entity controlled in Lebanon by Syria (1990-2005) with a splintered anti-Syrian opposition. The Kataeb has now been reborn as one of the most vocal anti-Syrian/anti-Iranian parties. It’s new youthful leaders are regaining lost ground in the Lebanese Christian community and have been bringing up controversial issues that were rarely discussed in Lebanon’s political discourse.
Background on the Kataeb Party
Based off of European authoritarian movements that combined athleticism and nationalist principles (such as the Czech Sokol movement), the Lebanese Kataeb Party (Hizb al Kata’ib al Lubnaniyya) was founded in 1936 as a youth organization. The party’s founders included, Pierre Gemayel, Charles Helou (who would later become president of Lebanon in 1964), Emile Yarid, George Naqqash and Shafic Nassif. Of the aforementioned, Pierre Gemayel would maintain actual and nominal leadership of the party for almost forty years. The party would also fluctuate ideologically between advocating social-democratic principles and individualist liberal and neo-liberal policies.
The party and its leaders gained much of their support and notoriety following the 1958 Lebanese Civil War. At the time the group offered armed and political support to President Camille Chamoun. Then Chamoun was opposed by Nasserist, anti-Western, leftist and other Lebanese political groups. In the 1960s and 70s the party came into its own opposing Palestinian militants and in 1976 of being a main member of the coalition of Christian political parties know as the Lebanese Front.
During the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, the party and its militia were extremely active, garnering a broad support from the Christian population.
In 1976, Pierre Gemayel’s youngest son, Bachir assumed leadership of the Kataeb militia. Bachir then extended his influence over the umbrella group for other Christian militias (including the Kataeb’s), the Lebanese Forces. Bachir’s ascension to power was marked by his unification of Christian forces, Christian-Syrian fighting (especially during the 1981 Battle for Zahle) and the 1982 Israeli “Operation Peace for the Galilee”.
While Israeli intervention assisted in Bachir’s eventual winning of the Lebanese presidency, he was seen as a strong and independent Christian leader. Bachir’s meteoric rise was cut short by a bomb placed in the Kataeb’s Achrafieh (East Beirut) headquarters by Syrian intelligence in September, 1982. His older brother Amine was selected as the successor and eventually assumed the reins of the Lebanese presidency in 1983.
Amine’s presidency was marked by almost constant fighting between Muslims and Christians, intra-sectarian warfare and continual the Syrian interference. This same time period lasting from 1983-1988 was also marked by the growth of pro-Iranian Shia militias such as Hizballah. Also, due to Israel’s 1984-1985 pullout, Syria gained an upper hand in its occupation of Lebanon. The end of Amine Gemayel’s regime was marked by further intra-Christian fighting between Lebanese Army elements lead by Michel Aoun and the Lebanese Forces (LF) under the leadership of Samir Geagea.
By 1990, Syria had taken all of Lebanon and the Lebanese Kataeb Party came upon hard times. With Syrian occupation and what could be termed a Syrian “puppet government” in Beirut, the once powerful Kataeb was minimized. At the time, George Saadeh led the party until his death in 1998. Following his death, stronger pro-Syrian elements took further control. Kataeb Party stalwarts such as Munir Hajj led the party from 1999-2002 and was then succeeded by Karim Pakradouni. During the 1990s the anti-Syrian leadership had left the country (namely, Amine Gemayel who spent time exiled in France and the United States) or were silenced by the Syrians following the conclusion of the Civil War. Additionally, the Kataeb rank and file opposed to the Syrians (a sizable majority within the party) were also repressed by Syria and their Lebanese allies.
Even after the 2005 Cedar Revolution which cast out direct Syrian occupation of Lebanon, the Kataeb was still faced with the problem of having two competing leadership bases. Eventually, Karim Pakradouni’s wing was pushed out of power primarily by anti-Syrian elements loyal to Amine and his son Pierre Amine Gemayel from 2005-2007.
With control over the party now held by the traditional anti-Syrian majority, the Kataeb engaged in new projects.
The development of extensive social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter and the growth of Lebanese Internet usage has seen the Kataeb Party reach out to younger supporters using these mediums. The party even built a new website, Kataeb.org. Other Internet campaigns have been engaged in by the Kataeb’s new youthful leaders, Nadim and Sami Gemayel. Both of these Parliamentarians have secured a new voice for Lebanon’s Christians. This voice is strongly anti-Syrian, anti-Iranian (and anti-Hizballah) and calls for a reaction against what many Christians see as an imposition of an Syro-Iranian system and indirect control of Lebanon.
Sami Gemayel’s Kataeb: Christian Identity & Federalism
Sami Gemayel, the youngest son of former Lebanese President and current Kataeb Party leader, Amine Gemayel, is most likely the heir apparent of the Kataeb. His rise in the party was rife with conflict. Sami was viewed by many as more rebellious than his older brother Pierre Amine. The brothers were often compared to their uncle and father, with Pierre Amine being more like his father and Sami behaving in a manner that was befitting his uncle, Bachir Gemayel.
In 1998, during his university days, Sami Gemayel assisted in the development of a small but extremely loyal following. Continually, Sami would deny that he was the leader of any of these groups but it was clear he was at least a leading member. Sami also became a leading voice in the anti-Syrian youth community. From 1998-2005, Sami engaged in a number of political activities. In 2003, he joined his father and brother’s anti-Syrian “Kataeb al Qaida” (Kataeb Base) movement (later renamed the Kataeb Reform Movement) and spent time rallying student supporters of the anti-Syrian Kataeb.
By 2005, Sami soon aligned himself with informal campus gatherings of Kataeb students, a number of independent Christian students and some intellectuals. This collection of likeminded people coalesced first into the “Muqawimin Hatta al Horiyye” (Resisters Until Freedom) which was then folded in with other individuals and groups, into a new political group called Loubnanouna (Our Lebanon). Following its 2006 formation, Loubnanouna called for a new Lebanese constitution, the adoption of federalism within a pluralistic framework of viewing Lebanon, and a replacement of the current parliamentary system which requires a two-thirds consensus in order to pass laws with a simple majority vote.
In June 2006, following a controversial episode of the popular comedy show, Basmat Watan that featured a parody of Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Hizballah supporters rioted in Christian sections of Beirut. According to many witnesses, Gemayel took a frontal position in the Christian counter-protest. By November, 2006, Sami left Loubnanouna to rejoin the Kataeb after his brother MP Pierre Amine was assassinated in Beirut. During this period, Sami voiced the private concerns of many Christians following the 2006 Hizballah-Israel War stating that Hizballah was essentially functioning as a state within a state. As he reentered political life with the Kataeb he was appointed to lead the party’s Student Committee.
With Sami Gemayel’s experience in Loubnanouna, (which is now a devoted pro-federalist lobby group), he had, in addition to building a series of new powerbases, demonstrated a commitment to the idea that the only way to secure the Christian community and Lebanon as a unitary state was through the implementation of a federalist solution. In Christian circles, federalism was a controversial topic, but many pro-Western Christian leaders had demonstrated support for the idea. Gemayel’s support for a federalist solution has been tempered by political realities in the country and within the Kataeb.
As a member of parliament Gemayel has not stated that a federal regime needs to be imposed, however, it is likely that he is still sympathetic to the idea. In January, Gemayel stated that federalism would be a solution to Christian security if Lebanon ever shed its sectarian system of government in favor of secularism.
Another point of interest explored by the Kataeb under Sami Gemayel’s leadership was that of ethno-religious identity. This differs from the more traditional Kataeb ideology of Lebanese nationalism, which did not usually embrace a separate identity for Christians. In 2005 Sami stated, “you have elements which constitute an identity: history, religion, language…Each part of the Lebanese population has its own culture, its own history, its own values, its own identity…Lebanon is multicultural…[N]ot a homogenous country”.
The Maronites of Lebanon had originally emerged from present day Syria’s Orontes River Valley in the 6th-9th centuries. At the time, the region was being fought over between the Byzantines and Islamized Arabs. The Syriac-Aramaean identity of the Maronites, is non-Arab and had many distinct cultural characteristics. Historically, Syriac-Aramaic, as opposed to Arabic, was the original language (and is still the liturgical language for the Maronite Church) for many of the Christians of Lebanon.
For Syriac-Maronite nationalists, acknowledgement of this identity affirms their unique non-Arab identity. This separate identity continually suppressed by the Syrians, Lebanese Arabists, and Islamists, who used Arabism as a means to minimize Maronite influence.
In the early formative years of Loubnanouna and due to his experiences holding roundtable discussions in universities, Sami and many of his cohorts attended Syriac-Aramaic language and cultural courses. Among Sami Gemayel’s followers, Syriac identity has been further demonstrated by the inclusion of the Syriac-Aramaic version of their names on Facebook. On the official Kataeb website, there is even a banner for the Bnay Qyomo NGO. This independent group, which is not affiliated with any political party, was established in 2009 to return the Christians, primarily belonging to the Maronite Church back to its historical Syriac roots. This included the development of cultural and historical appreciation for the unique Lebanese Christian culture and the re-introduction of the Syriac-Aramaic language to Lebanon’s Christians. The Kataeb Internet team also uploaded Murr TV reports regarding the Syriac-Aramaic culture and language.
On April 20, 2008 following the inaugural speech given by Gemayel at the new Kataeb headquarters in Zahle automatic weapons fire erupted. In the ensuing gunfire two members of the Kataeb Party were killed. The attack did little to stop Sami’s drive, and he continued his push to be elected as a member of parliament in 2009.
During his announcement to run for the Maronite parliamentary seat in the Metn, Gemayel voiced his dream of Christian unity, “there can be no Lebanon without Christians…[There is no] Sunni-Christian plan…, or a Shiite-Christian plan or a Druze-Christian plan, only a Christian-Christian plan”. This and other comments by Gemayel drew the ire of many political observers, notably Daily Star columnist Michael Young.
In a July editorial, Young stated that Gemayel’s, “strategy [was] bound to enhance Christian isolation” and that Sami’s speech was confrontational vis a vis Lebanon’s Muslims. With the receding population of Christians in Lebanon, Sunni and Shia Islamist threats and a Christian community split between Sunni and Shia partners, Sami’s exclamations of Christian-centric plans reflect a greater fear in the historically autonomous Christian community of minimization, insignificance and possible oppression by deeply-rooted Islamic foes.
Familial Splits in the Kataeb & The Rise of Nadim Gemayel
Sharing many of his slain father’s physical attributes, son of assassinated president-elect Bachir Gemayel, Nadim Gemayel, won the Maronite Beirut first district seat (Achrafieh) in June, 2009. Besides being the son of the man many Christians saw as the embodiment of the “Christian cause” in Lebanon, Nadim achieved some notoriety when he protested the government’s closure of Murr TV and started the Lebanon First (Lubnan Awlan) political youth movement in 2002. Going against the Kataeb grain in 2003, he and his mother, MP Solange Gemayel, supported a candidate affiliated with then exiled Michel Aoun’s nascent Free Patriotic Movement (Tayyar al Watani al Hurr). The move actually mirrored the LF-Aounist alliance, leading some commentators and Kataeb Party members to speculate that Nadim was hoping to join or potentially be a future leader in the Lebanese Forces.
Nadim has come to represent another wing of the Kataeb which has favored further reconciliation and identification with the Lebanese Forces. Originally, the Lebanese Forces was founded and led by Nadim’s murdered father. The group was an umbrella militia (combining many Christian militias, yet finding most of its manpower from the Kataeb’s militia) and social services group for much of its existence. Following LF leader, Samir Geagea’s failed 1986 attempt to become a leader in the Kataeb, the LF was transformed into more of a political party. This transformation from militia to political party was completed in 1992, only to be banned by the Syrians in 1994. This change resulted in the creation of two distinct support bases for the Kataeb and LF, leading to periods of close coordination and at other times of disagreement and even fighting. Regardless of their past differences, both parties were active allies in the March 14th Coalition and established themselves as leading Christian groups against Syria and Iranian influence in Lebanon. Gemayel’s office, built atop the same location his father was assassinated, is festooned with pictures of the LF militia’s forces and LF symbols.
During the Syrian occupation, when the Kataeb was ruled by Pakradouni’s pro-Syrian elements, two wings of opposition developed against Pakradouni and demonstrated different powerbases within the anti-Syrian Kataeb. First, the Kataeb Base (al Qaida al Kataeb), later named the Kataeb Reform Movement, was led by Amine and Pierre Amine Gemayel. This grouping developed close links within the ranks of anti-Syrian Kataeb supporters in the Metn district, where Pierre Amine had his parliamentary seat, in addition to being the main area which supported Amine. The second element was dominated by Nadim Gemayel and Elie Karame. This section, named the Kataeb Opposition, rallied support from Beirut’s Achriafieh district’s Kataeb and Lebanese Forces supporters.
Further demonstrating the political split between the Sami and Nadim camps, during an April 11, 2010 meeting of Kataeb officials at Forum de Beirut, Nadim Gemayel and some of his aides walked out when both Amine and Sami spoke to party members and he was not allowed to do so. These two different powerbases, which share many of the same ideals and experienced the Lebanese Civil War and Syrian occupation in much the same fashion, are now the leading elements inside of the Kataeb. While violence between the two elements is a distant possibility, both are vying for power within the party.
Renewed Opposition to the Taif Accord
In 1990, the Taif Accord was a Syrian and Saudi crafted document that, “provided the basis for the ending of the civil war and the return to political normalcy in Lebanon.” At the time, Kataeb leaders such as George Saadeh, one of the original Christian supporters for the accord, not only facilitated the agreement but assisted in its creation. As late as 2008, Amine Gemayel voiced support for the document, stating, “the Taif Accord is not perfect” but it was central to the anti-Syrian March 14th Coalition (of which Kataeb is a member).
However, the younger generation of Kataeb leaders has become a vocal representative of the Christian street. This cross section of Christian society opposes the agreement due to its weakening of the presidency (which is to be held by a Maronite Christian) and reduction of Christian representation in parliament to a 50:50 ratio vis a vis the Muslims. Additionally, the Taif Accord’s imposition of Arabism over the original 1943 National Pact (al Mithaq al Watani) which embraced a multi-cultural (the so-called “Arab-face”) approach to viewing Lebanon. Nadim Gemayel stated on the LBC show, Kalem El Nass, that, “[Taif] means Christian surrender”. Even the Kataeb’s Christian rivals, such as the pro-Syrian Free Patriotic Movement and Marada Movement have been a strong critics of Taif.
Sami Gemayel has been a persistent voice of discontent with the agreement. One of Sami’s biggest problems with the accord was on the basis that it imposed Arabism on Lebanon. During a 2005, roundtable discussion involving young Lebanese political leaders, Gemayel voiced his opposition to the Taif Accord and its imposition of Arabism, noting, “it decided all of a sudden that Lebanon‘s identity was Arab. I don‘t know how a country‘s identity can be changed through some agreement in a Syrian barrack”.
A Bulwark Against Syrian and Iranian Influence?
Since the party’s founding, the Kataeb had militarily and politically fought Syrian influence in Lebanon. More recently, in the post-2005 Cedar Revolution environment, the party has seen its Sunni Muslim and Druze partners dwindle in the face of renewed Syrian influence inside Lebanon. As the Sunni Muslim, Tayyar al Mustaqbal (Future Movement) and Druze, Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), have softened or even reversed their earlier hard-line anti-Syrian and anti Iranian anti-Hizballah positions, the Kataeb has offered a firm stance against both groups. The Kataeb has played a continuing role furthering a Christian position of being a harsh critic of Hizballah’s weapons, armed Palestinian groups, and Syro-Iranian influence in Lebanon.
Hizballah arms and militia banned by UNSCR 1559 and 1701, are seen as a monumental threat to many in the Christian community. This threat was magnified following the actions of May, 2008, when Hizballah forcibly took over West Beirut and burned opposing party’s offices and media outlets. Increasing Christian fear were moves from the Shia Hizballah in setting up new armed encampments in primarily Christian areas (notably Mt. Sannine) and engagement in a geo-strategic effort to connect Shia villages back to main Shia Muslim centers in the Bekka Valley, through the purchase of Christian lands.
Kataeb leadership had been one of the few political voices come out in full force against many of Hizballah’s actions. In June, 2008, Christian hikers were shot at and detained by Hizballah. Amine Gemayel made statements condemning Hizballah and their inroads into the Christian areas. There were also rumors that investors connected to Sami Gemayel, in addition to other Kataeb supporters had set up a small group, to buy back or hold Christian lands in the effort to maintain the geographic contiguity of Christian zones.
Demonstrating the new leadership’s anti-Hizballah and Christian-centric outlook, Sami Gemayel stated that, “the day will come when [Hizballah] is disarmed”. Nadim Gemayel said in an LBC interview that, “Hizballah weapons are a threat to the Christian presence [in Lebanon]”. This was buttressed by comments made by Nadim at his father’s memorial in 2008, “We are not afraid of Hezbollah’s weapons. We have never been afraid of any weapons, but we are afraid for our country and its identity. It is unacceptable to have security zones and states within the state”.
Even though the Kataeb is faced with internal power plays and at times petty disagreements, a newer Christian-centric outlook has been developed by the party’s young leadership. Despite the loss of committed allies from other sectarian groups, the party’s stance vis-a-vis Hizballah and her backers remains unchanged, if not more oppositional.
Both Nadim and Sami Gemayel lead committed groups of followers and by extension have some control over vital Christian geographic zones (East Beirut and the Metn District, respectively). Their visions of Lebanon and its Christian population reflect a hope for growth, renewed Christian power and a longing to achieve a new balance in the country. While both leaders share many of the same visions for their country, their personal quests for leadership may lead them into family and by extension common political bickering found in most political parties. Nevertheless, when dealing with the Hizballah militia, Syria and a myriad of other groups, it is quite clear that the party will stick to its new principles.
Phillip Smyth is a freelance journalist and makes frequent trips to Lebanon and the broader Middle East. He specializes in the study of Middle Eastern Christian communities, regional nationalisms and Lebanese politics.
 Frank Stoakes, “The Supervigilantes: The Lebanese Kataeb Party As A Builder, Surrogate and Defender of State”, Middle East Studies, October 1975, P. 215.
 “Lebanese Fascists Attack Palestinians”, MERIP Reports, May, 1975, P.30-31
 The party has demonstrated a support to individualism and free-enterprise. At times, the party has stressed its support of “social democracy”, which would push it closer to many center-left parties in Europe.
 Robert Fisk, Pity The Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon, (Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, New York, 2002), pp. 65-66.
 John P. Entelis, “Party Transformation In Lebanon: Al Kata’ib As A Case Study”, Middle East Studies, October, 1973. P. 325.
 Ibid. pp. 331-332.
 Farid El-KhazenThe Breakdown of the State In Lebanon, 1967-1976, (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000), p.52.
 Earleen Tatro, “Lebanese Christians Run A State Within A State”, Associated Press, January 10, 1982.
 Zeev Schiff, Ehud Ya’ari, Israel’s Lebanon War, (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1984) pp. 53-54.
 Mordechai Nisan, Minorities In the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression, (Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 2002), P.220.
 M. Graeme Bannerman, “Republic of Lebanon” in David E. Long and Bernard Reich (ed.) The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa (Fourth Edition), (Westview Press, Boulder, CO, 2002), P. 218.
 Jacqueline Saad, “The Kataeb Comes Back Together Again”, Now Lebanon, August 8, 2007.
 See: http://twitter.com/LebaneseKataeb and http://www.facebook.com/pages/kataeborg/111550110845 .
 An example of a young Kataeb leader’s use of the internet can be seen on Nadim Gemayel’s website: http://www.nadimgemayel.com/index.asp . The website comes complete with links to social networking sites and schedules of when Nadim Gemayel is going to make a media appearance.
 Manuela Paraipan, “Interview With Sheikh Samy Gemayel”, Global Politician, September 6, 2006. Link: http://www.globalpolitician.com/22113-lebanon-interview
 Michael Young, “Should We Worry About Sami Gemayel?”, Daily Star, July 9, 2009.
 Maria Abi-Habib, Divided Lebanon debates federalism, Al Jazeera, June 12, 2007.
 Bassem Mroue, “TV Satire Riots Taint Lebanon”, AP, June 2, 2006.
 Interview with three protesters, September 1, 2009
 Daily Star, September 3, 2006
 Lebanese Forces’ leader Samir Geagea was a fervent advocate for federalism in the 1980s. Also, leader of the National Liberal Party, Dori Chamoun, supported the idea in 2006.
 “Sami Gemayel Says Federalism a Guarantee for Christians in Case of Abolishing Sectarianism”, Naharnet, January 15, 2010
 John P. Entelis, “Party Transformation In Lebanon: Al Kata’ib As A Case Study”, Middle East Studies, October, 1973. pp. 329-330.
 Marianne Stigset, “Out With the Old, In With the New?”, Daily Star, April 20, 2005.
 Matti Moosa, The Maronites In History, (Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY, 1986), pp. 16-22.
 Personal discussions with Loubnanouna members, August 2009.
 Personal observations.
 See: http://kataeb.org/index.asp?stay=1 and http://kataeb.org/ArticleDetails.asp?articleID=28137
 Interview with Bnay Qyomo leader, Haytham el Chaer, January 5, 2010.
 See: http://www.youtube.com/user/LebKataeb
 “Two Kataeb Activists Killed In Zahle”, Now Lebanon, April 21, 2008.
 “Sami Gemayel Announces Candidacy, Calls for Dialogue, Not Grudges”, Naharnet, April 4, 2009.
 Michael Young, “Should We Worry About Sami Gemayel?”, Daily Star, July 9, 2009.
 Some interesting discourse involving members of Loubnanouna and Lubnan Awlan can be found on the Bachir Gemayel Forum. Link: http://www.bachirgemayel.org/forum/archive/index.php/t-965.html .
 Personal Discussions with Kataeb Party and Lebanese Forces Supporters, Beirut, August 2009.
 Georges Lucien,“Georges Saadé; Le président du parti des Phalanges libanais”, Le Monde, November 23, 1998.
 Personal observation, July, 2007.
 The blog, Lebanese Political Journal, provides an excellent analysis of both anti-Syrian movements within the Kataeb: http://lebop.blogspot.com/2005/04/karim-pakradounis-phalanges-beginning.html.
 “Nadim Gemayel Walks Out On Kataeb Event, An Nahar Reports”, April 12, 2010, NowLebanon.
 Hassan Krayem, The Lebanese Civil War and the Taif Agreement, American University of Beirut,
 Edgard O’Ballance, Civil War In Lebanon, 1975-92, (Palgrave, New York, 1998), P.195.
 Edmund Blair, “INTERVIEW – ‘After the elections ... one of the first issues would be dialogue with Hizbollah…’, former President Amin Gemayel said to Reuters”, Reuters, March 30, 2008.
 Michael Young, “Christian Path to Assisted Suicide”, Daily Star, March 19, 2009
 “Pro-Syrian Al-Marada Re-Surfaces With A Revised Platform”, Lebanon wire, July 1, 2006. Link: http://www.lebanonwire.com/0607MLN/06070113LR.asp.
 Marianne Stigset, “Out With the Old, In With the New?”, Daily Star, April 20, 2005
 Tom Perry, “Lebanon Government Denounces Hezbollah ‘Coup’ In Beirut”, Reuters, May 9, 2008.
 Nicholas Blanford, “Hezbollah Regroups In A New Mountain Stronghold”, The Times (of London), February 26, 2007.
 Toni Abi Najem, “The Map of Hezbollah’s Armed Deployment In The Villages of Jezzine”, Nahar Ash-Shabab, July 10, 2008.
 Personal conversations with Kataeb Party members, August 13-15, 2009.
 “Sami Gemayel: The day will come when Hezbollah is disarmed”, Now Lebanon, April 11, 2010.
 Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), April 18, 2010
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