Former president Elias Sarkis of Lebanon, a taciturn lawyer who led his tortured country through six of its bloodiest years, died Thursday at a hospital in Paris. The cause of death was not given, but Mr. Sarkis, who was 60, reportedly had cancer.
A Christian, Mr. Sarkis was elected president at the height of one Lebanese conflict, the civil war of 1975-1976, and ended his term in the midst of another, the Israeli invasion of 1982.
In office, he was unable to forge a lasting accommodation between his nation's warring Christian and Moslem factions. At the same time, the growing independent power of the Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon prompted two large-scale Israeli attacks, in 1978 and 1982.
Born into a shopkeeping family in a mixed Christian-Moslem mountain village, Mr. Sarkis worked as a railway clerk and eventually obtained a law degree at Beirut's Jesuit-run St. Joseph University.
After entering the civil service, he became a protege of Lebanese army commander Fuad Chehab, who became president in 1958 and made Mr. Sarkis presidential chief of staff. He also held the job under Chehab's successor, Charles Helou, until 1966.
During a Lebanese bank crisis in 1968, Helou called in Mr. Sarkis to reorganize the banking system as Central Bank governor.
Under Lebanon's unwritten National Pact, the president, who is chosen by Parliament, must be a Maronite Christian. Lesser offices are designated for Moslems and members of other Lebanese religious groups.
Mr. Sarkis was nominated for the presidency in 1970 and lost to Suleiman Franjieh by one parliamentary vote, 50 to 49. Six years later, as rightist Christian militiamen battled Lebanese Moslems and Palestinians in the streets of Beirut, the Parliament chose Mr. Sarkis to succeed Franjieh.
Many Lebanese looked to the cool, efficient technocrat to restore order and rebuild the shaken Lebanese economy. In the end, however, it was neighboring Syria that imposed a tenuous peace in the civil war. Mr. Sarkis maintained close ties to the Damascus government.
In June 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon for the second time in four years, but this time it drove all the way to Beirut and forced the Palestinian guerrillas to abandon their positions in the heart of the country.
Mr. Sarkis enjoyed good relations with the United States throughout his term and played a role in the deployment of a multinational peace-keeping force of U.S., British, French and Italian troops in Beirut following the Israeli invasion. U.S. troops left Beirut after the suicide bombing of the Marine peace-keeping barracks that killed 241 Americans in October 1983.
Mr. Sarkis was succeeded in the presidency by Amin Gemayel.