TEL AVIV, Israel -- Saad Haddad, the renegade Lebanese major who formed his own militia and made a separate peace with Israel to keep Syria from dominating all of Lebanon, died Saturday after a long illness, Israel Radio said. He was 47.
No cause of death was reported, but Haddad had been hospitalized several times in recent months and Israeli news reports said he suffered from cancer.
Haddad's death left the prospect of a security void in southern Lebanon, where Haddad's 1,000-member militia, with support from Israeli occupation troops, patrolled as a surrogate security force.
Israeli radio and television said Israel and Lebanon had agreed to appoint a Christian Lebanese officer, Col. Alias Halil, to command Lebanese forces in the area, but there was no indication whether that would be permanent.
'It is a new problem,' said retired Maj. Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal, a former Israeli commander in the area. 'I don't know what will happen. Haddad is gone.'
Once branded a traitor by the Beirut government he renounced, Haddad said he accepted backing from Israel to keep Palestine Liberation Organization guerrillas out of the south and the Syrians, who control northern Lebanon, from extending their control.
'If it were not for me, what would happen to Lebanon?' he asked in an interview. 'If the south were lost, all Lebanon would be lost - taken over completely by the Syrians. It was my duty to do this.'
The Israel Radio report said Haddad died at his home in Marjayoun, the southern Lebanese village where he was born, with his wife and six daughters at his bedside. Funeral arrangements were not immediately made public.
The report said church bells sounded throughout Maronite Christian villages in southern Lebanon for the popular Haddad, a Maronite.
There was no immediate comment from Lebanon. Just two weeks ago, a Lebanese court restored Haddad's commission in the Lebanese Army, which once wanted to court martial him as a traitor.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir expressed 'deep sorrow' and called Haddad both a 'great Lebanese patriot' and a 'friend and true ally of Israel.' Haddad formed a militia of Christians and Shiite Moslems in a border strip he dubbed 'Free Lebanon' in disgust at the political battles among Moslem and Christian factions in Beirut that kept the country in turmoil.
'Is there any point in confronting the depressing self-centeredness of most Lebanese, who think only of making money and growing rich?' he once asked in an interview.
'The worst part is they all consider themselves great patriots until it becomes necessary to act -- while I consider myself a small patriot.'
He was staunchly anti-PLO and anti-Syrian, fighting Palestinian guerrillas well before Israel's June 6, 1982, invasion of south Lebanon to root them out and end attacks on northern Israeli towns.
As a major in the Lebanese Army, he was sent in 1976 to south Lebanon with orders to stop the PLO from taking over the area.
But after the army disintegrated during the 1976 civil war, the sad-eyed major forged close ties with Israel and founded the militia he called the 'Army of Free Lebanon.' Israel supplied it with uniforms and weapons, including vintage Sherman tanks.
In 1977, Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman awarded Haddad a Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts against the PLO.
Haddad's cooperation with Israel became closer after its 1978 'Operation Litani,' an invasion of south Lebanon to fight the PLO.
In April 1979, Haddad proclaimed 'Free Lebanon' -- an anti-guerrilla enclave, 6 miles long and 12 miles wide, with a population of 60,000 Shiites and 40,000 Christians.
The Beirut government branded him a traitor, demanding he return north to be court-martialed. He refused.